Kevin Reynolds’ unique wartime thriller The Beast makes its US Blu-Ray debut thanks to Kino Lorber.
I’ve had insomnia off and on since my childhood – around 11 or 12 to be exact. Why do I mention this? Because much of that time, half-awake-half-asleep, watching movies on whatever cable channel had the most interesting title. This is where The Beast enters the conversation.
The unique, even amongst the tank subgenre of war films, Kevin Reynolds’s directed thriller hooked me instantly. I still remember as the film begins to contort and show its true colors how it pulled me in. I knew little of the 20 Years War that Russia fought with Afghanistan, at the time, other than what I saw on Rambo III – which was little if nothing.
The tension of this Russian tank crew was enough to wake pre-teenage me up out of the insomniac haze I was in. It was one of the first war movies I had seen that was as much about the interpersonal drama of confined spaces (Note this reviewer did not see Das Boot until a few years later) as it was about the combat itself. That interpersonal drama coming to an explosive moment between Jason Patric’s Constantine the intelligent tank driver and the truly vicious and psychotic tank Captain played by George Dzundza.
Thirty years later The Beast is still a highly effective tense wartime thriller. Maybe fresher and more exciting now than it was when it was initially released. The way that the film balances its characterizations, gives us a look at both sides. Inside the tank and outside the tank with the freedom fighters is the kind of adroit storytelling that most war films refuse to trade in. The understanding of even Dzundza’s Captain and why he is the way he is is one of the many unique aspects of this almost-forgotten film.
You’ll have to forgive it casting Steven Bauer as one of the Afghani rebels. It is one of its few outdated choices though Bauer commits to it in a way that is never pandering or some sort of caricature. In fact, The Beast as a whole, never trades in cliché or stereotypes which is refreshing for a war film set in the Middle East, specifically in Afghanistan.
Adding further to the adroit nature of the entire enterprise are two truly amazing performances between Patric and Dzundza. Both actors are on another level trading asides and eventually violence towards one another over ideals. This starts the run of a truly great, and almost-forgotten, performances by Jason Patric. Eschewing his movie star looks for more committed and interior performances. As Constantine, Patric is a man ill at ease with everything he sees in this war and has no power to stop it. His work complements Dzundza’s showier role perfectly and supports it in a way that Dunneza was never supported in any of his roles.
The Beast doesn’t give easy answers or any easy judgment over any of the combatants. It just shows war for what it is; violence that begets more violence over ideals.
The Transfer is the same one from the Australian Boutique label Imprint. Having compared the two and I can say that Kino’s disc is the better of the two giving us a fresher fuller transfer. The image is crisp and sharp. The grain structure and contrast levels are beautifully rendered giving us a transfer that feels more like a 35mm print than a Blu-ray.
The extras include trailers for The Beast – VHS Trailer (1:03); After Dark, My Sweet (2:17), Rush (2:20), Missing in Action (1:41), Bat 21 (2:25), Tristian + Isolde (2:34)
The Final Thought
The Beast is an excellent nearly forgotten wartime thriller. Kino Lorber continues to bring these types of films to home video with the best picture and sound. Highest Recommendations!!!