[box cover]

The Beast

Director Kevin Reynolds, the man who single-handedly destroyed his career with the Kevin Costner megaflop Waterworld (1995), proves in the breathtaking The Beast (1988) that he once had the gift of dramatic subtlety. An unusual war film in that it gives both its heroes and villains an equal amount of screen time, The Beast passes judgment on no one — it merely serves as a commentator on dire times and circumstances. And unlike most other American war films, Yank bravado is nowhere to be found. The story, set during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, splits its time evenly between a Russian tank crew lost behind enemy lines and a group of Afghan soldiers out to destroy the iron leviathan terrorizing their homes. After one of the Russian soldiers (a barely recognizable Jason Patric) is banished from the tank after questioning the murderous orders of his commanding officer (George Dzundza), Patric's character finds his loyalty divided between his birth country and his own sense of right and wrong: Soon he must choose between returning to the army he's sworn to serve or fighting alongside "the enemy" for a cause he believes in. The Beast is astonishing in its objectivity, making sure the viewers understand the viewpoint of every character in the story. So convincingly does Reynolds depict his characters and locales that many passages of the movie feel more like a documentary than a feature film. And for a movie that makes such grand use of exotic locales, it may surprise viewers to learn that the story is in fact based upon the play "Nanawatai," written by William Mastrosimone, who also penned the screenplay — it would be interesting to see how the epic scope of this marvelous adventure/war drama could be compressed to fit a stage. Columbia TriStar's DVD edition of The Beast offers a beautiful anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with a pan-and-scan version offered on the flip side, with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Although little is offered in the way of special features, the studio has packed the disc with subtitles (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai) and alternate audio tracks (French, Spanish and Portuguese are all offered). Theatrical trailers are also included for several other Columbia war films, though oddly enough The Beast's own trailer is conspicuous in its absence. Talent files, keep-case.
—Joe Barlow