‘The Beast’ Is the Best Tank Movie You’ve Never Seen
Afghan tribesmen hunt a Soviet tank in this cult classic
This story originally appeared on Nov. 21, 2014.
The Beast should be a terrible movie.
It’s a film about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made by Americans in 1988. Kevin Reynolds—the man behind the disastrous flop Waterworld—directed it. Stephen Baldwin plays a major supporting role.
On its face, The Beast is the kind of movie that sensible people would dismiss as cheesy schlock. Just another Red Scorpion or Delta Force. That’s probably why The Beast suffered at the box office.
It’s a cult classic now. And for good reason. The Beast is incredible. It’s a fantastic tank movie … and one of the best films out there about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The setup is deceptively simple. A Russian tank crew slaughters a Pashtun village. Then the tankers get lost on the way back to Kandahar. The surviving villagers hunt the tank, determined to destroy the monster that destroyed them. The Soviets—led by the mad commander Daskal—must fight their way out of a valley as their supplies dwindle.
William Mastrosimone’s excellent script elevates The Beast above standard ’80s action dreck. Mastrosimone was in Afghanistan in 1986. He watched Afghan mujahideen pulled Russian tankers from their T-62 and execute them.
The killings left an impression on the writer. Mastrosimone adapted the experience into a play. His script, full of moral ambiguity, transfers well to the screen. Characters that seem one-dimensional at first deliver monologues that perfectly explain their complex motivations.
The Ahab-like Drascal is a child of World War II who survived Stalingrad and fought the Nazis alongside his mother and father.
Samad, the Russian’s Afghan interpreter, is no slimy traitor. He believes in bringing the country he loves into the 20th century—and he’s willing to work with the invaders to make that happen.
The Pashtun tribe has its own nuance. The tribesman squabble, struggle with their traditions and question the morality of their blood quest.
Dale Dye consulted on the film. It shows.
Dye is a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam. If you’ve seen an American war movie in the past 30 years, there’s a good chance that Dye was its military adviser.
His contributions to The Beast are many. He negotiated the sale of two Soviet T-55 tanks from Israel, ran a training course for the actors and kept the tanks working on set. His production diaries are as entertaining as the movie is.
And that’s saying a lot.