A harrowing, tightly focused war film that becomes a moving, near-Biblical allegory, The Beast represents a stellar achievement for all involved. Based on William Mastrosimone’s play Nanawatai, pic explores a single fictional incident set in 1981, the second year of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.
A Russian tank gets trapped in a no-exit valley after its brutal decimation of a nearby Afghan village, and the surviving villagers, who’ve discovered a weapon capable of destroying a tank, decide to track it down for revenge.
‘The Beast’ is the tank, a formidably efficient war machine that becomes the center of the pic. Among its crew are Daskal (George Dzundza), a vicious, paranoid commander capable of killing his own crewmen, and Koverchenko (Jason Patric), a conscience-stricken former philosophy student. The Afghans, who see the war in religious terms, include a young man (Steven Bauer) struggling to attain a leadership role.
Performances, many of them repeated from the stage version, are remarkably evocative, particularly from the Afghans, who speak in subtitled dialect (the Russians speak English). Patric gives a resonant portrayal of the questioning Russian.
From pic’s harrowing opening scene to its beautiful, meditative final stroke, director Kevin Reynolds (Fandango) displays remarkably mature and effective storytelling skills. Photography of Israeli desert locales is striking.