The Beast of War [1988]

I put off watching The Beast of War for the longest time. I stumbled upon it looking for good movies about tanks and this one seems to be pretty good. However, I constantly kept thinking it’s some low-budget, grainy effort that’s just going to bore me. And so, it was never the right time to check it out. However, one faithful Monday, I decided to hit that play button. Right from the opening scene, I simply knew that this is going to be a fucking masterpiece. Wasting no time, the action kicks off pretty much immediately. We will be following a crew of a Soviet tank lost in one of the death valleys of Afghanistan. The vistas feel alien and like places where no one could ever survive. And then these huge tanks appear with soldiers wearing gasmasks like this is a post-apocalyptic movie. Just surreal and captivating.

Shot in the eighties, The Best of War details the doomed Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many have said that the lost tank actually represents their entire war effort in this graveyard of empires. Who knew that in just a few decades, the United States would find itself in exactly the same position. Committing the same mistakes and same crimes, only with different technology. Also, this is not one of those feel-good war movies or even one of those heroic war movies. It’s a gritty, violent, and above all realistic movie showing how war really feels like. This means there will be blood, violence, and a couple of really fucked up scenes. I’ve seen the movie last night and one of them just keeps popping up in my mind. And I keep referring to it as the pancake scene to take the edge off.

The first thing that’s going to hit you is the sheer authenticity of this movie. The tanks you’re going to see are real tanks. The weapons you’re going to see are real weapons and the explosions are also real. This gives The Beast of War a timeless quality and makes it worth watching even after more than thirty years. Within the first ten minutes, we get a full-blown tank assault showcasing just how powerful these machines of war are. Metal death on tracks.

During the Nuremberg Trials, one of the accused came up with terminology that reduced the horrific crimes they’ve done as just work orders. I can’t remember exactly who that was, please let me know if you remember. However, I remembered that cold and methodical approach to such vile actions during that tank assault. No matter you think about any side in any war, you must know all of them behaved horribly. The victors usually rationalize such behavior or don’t even mention it, while the losers get some of the blame. War is a time when all moral codes break and people become animals.

The Beast of War does an excellent job of explaining how things work in Afghanistan. The code of honor, the new generation looking for the payday, the harsh conditions, it all comes together. Granted, I found the ending a bit “westernly contrived” but it’s still pretty solid. Unfolding over the course of a day and a half, this is one hell of a ride. In a fucking authentic Soviet T-55 tank! There’s no bullshit, fillers, and other gimmicks, just harsh and unyielding realities of war.

The cast was fucking phenomenal led by George Dzundza who gave the performance of a lifetime. To single out any one of them would be a mistake as they were all simply stellar. Finally, I just have to reiterate how visually impressive The Beast of War is. The camera angles, the way the action scenes are filmed, and those mesmerizing landscapes, it’s all so fucking good. You feel the vastness of the desert, the relentless heat, and dehydration.

There’s this shot slowly panning from this layered rock cliff showing the passage of time to this beast grinding everything in its path. Fucking beautiful. What makes all this even more fascinating is the fact that this movie is based on William Mastrosimone’s play Nanawatai. So, you get all the cinematographic stuff plus great character development and storytelling. Fury ain’t got shit on The Beast when it comes to movies about tanks. Apart from our Rabbit Reviews selection of War Movies, I have to recommend Mosul as a pretty good follow-up movie.  

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Writer: William Mastrosimone

Cast: George Dzundza, Jason Patric, Steven Bauer, Stephen Baldwin, Don Harvey, Erick Avari, Chaim Jeraffi

Fun Facts: The film’s military advisor, Dale Dye, said that he negotiated the purchase of the tanks over drinks with Israel Defense Forces officers in a Tel Aviv hotel.


IMDb Link:

YouTube player