The Beast has a lot going for it, so its failure to connect–which is wholly director Reynolds’s fault–is a bit of a disappointment. The second half of the film has an accelerated pace. While the whole thing takes place over a couple days, the second half is an odd combination of summary and real time. Reynolds can’t pull it off. Peter Boyle’s fine editing can’t hide it either.
And some of the problems are writer William Mastrosimone’s fault. After establishing this wonderful antagonism between George Dzundza (as a Russian tank commander in Afghanistan who starts to lose it) and Jason Patric (his sane, and humanist, subordinate), Mastrosimone fails at establishing the camaraderie between Patric and Steven Bauer (as a Mujahideen). Patric and Bauer are both good enough to create said camaraderie and Reynolds certainly tries to engage it. But then acting and directing aren’t enough and the relationship needs the script and Mastrosimone’s too busy playing Patric’s dimwitted fellow tankers, played by Stephen Baldwin and Don Harvey, for laughs. It’s strange, especially since the first half of the film is able to balance it all out.
All of the acting in The Beast is strong. Dzundza gets the flashiest role, but Patric’s great, Bauer’s surprisingly strong (especially since once he and Patric cross paths, he takes a backseat in all his scenes). Baldwin, Harvey (especially Harvey). The supporting cast–Erick Avari, Shoshi Marciano, Kabir Bedi–all real good. When The Beast peaks and starts to slide in the third act, it isn’t the fault of the actors.
Reynolds shoots either close-ups or long shots. Whenever he does a medium shot, it’s a surprise; he’s composing for the eventual home video, pan and scan release, which is simultaneously unfortunate and also the only way he could have done The Beast. The desolate backdrops and the close-ups of the tank’s moving parts set to Mark Isham’s minimalist score work towards a certain transcendence.
Except, of course, Douglas Milsome’s photography is shockingly flat. Coupled with Reynolds’s impatience, the film’s visual sensibilities works counter to Isham’s score and the acting tone.
The Beast makes an intense impression throughout, but not much of one as the end credits begin to roll. It’s very close to being successful.