The Beast (June 23/02)
Kevin Reynolds has got to be one of the most thoroughly underappreciate directors working today. Ever since he directed that infamous bomb Waterworld (which actually wasn't that bad, if you watch it forgetting all that hype), he's been keeping a relatively low profile. His last feature, an updated version of The Count of Monte Cristo, was an exciting adventure movie which received a lukewarm reception at the box office. And in 1988, he made a film called The Beast - which barely received a theatrical release - a surprisingly effective look at how men behave during times of war.
The movie takes place in 1981 Afghanistan, and the Russians are at war. We meet the crew of a Soviet tank (all played by American actors sporting American accents - just accept it), lead by the grizzled and hard-edged commander (played by George Dzundza). Also in the crew are a green cadet (Stephen Baldwin) and a thoughtful army veteran (Jason Patric), and as the movie opens, everyone is horrified by the commander's order to run over a harmless rebel with the tank. They do it, of course, but the seed of dissent has already been planted for Patric. In a parallel storyline, we follow a group of Afghani rebels as they track the tank - with the eventual hope of destroying it.
Watching a movie like The Beast in this post September 11th world is an unusual experience. Instead of asking us to hate the Afghani rebels, the movie instead requires us to sympathize with them. And, in a plot twist eerily reminiscent of the whole John Walker Lindh thing, Patric eventually winds up fighting alongside the rebels. Obviously, watching the movie from this perspective was not something Reynolds and co. could have anticipated. Still, putting all that stuff aside, it's hard not to become wrapped up in this relatively simple story.
Obviously, a good portion of the credit has to go to director Reynolds. The man knows how to efficiently and effectively tell a story, and even though the film does come off as cliched and predictable on occasion, Reynolds' sure-fire direction keeps the whole thing afloat. The Beast is apparently based on a play, which could've spelled disaster for this sort of a movie, but it's as action packed as you'd want it to be.
Among the actors, Dzundza is easily the standout here. With his chiseled features and muscular frame (which is surprising in and of itself, given that Dzundza can no longer be consider svelte on any planet), he takes this character and makes him a terrifying figure. We're given a little bit of his history, which makes his behavior all the more believable (he's been fighting in wars since he was a boy). Patric is good as the idealistic hero of the piece, as are the other actors (it was interesting to see a film with Baldwin in which he's not constantly smirking) - but really, Dzundza is the driving force.
There are a few moments that come off as being a little too convenient (such as the accidental poisoning of a Russian helicopter crew…by the Russians!), but all in all, The Beast is an effectively rousing action flick.