The Beast of War (1988)



Director:     Kevin Reynolds.

Starring:     Jason Patric (Koverchenko), Steven Bauer (Taj), George Dzundza (Daskal), Stephen Baldwin (Golikov), Don Harvey (Kaminski), Kabir Bedi (Akbar), Erick Avari (Samad), Chaim Gerafi. (Moustafa).

During the Soviet-Afghan War, Soviet tank crew cut-off  and trying to get back to its battalion before they are attacked by Afghan rebels.  Brutal tank commander leaves a crew member behind to die, but he survives  and joins forces with the rebels. 



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Afghanistan, 1981, second year of the Russian invasion. 

Airplanes drop bombs on a small Afghan village.  Russian tanks blow up the rest of the village causing a lot of civilian deaths.  The Russians use poison gas to get Afghan women off their tank.  Sherina's husband is captured and placed under the tracks of the tank.  The tank is started on the orders of tank commander Daskal, a veteran of the Battle of Stalingrad, and her husband is run over. 

After the Russians leave the village, Taj and his uncle Akbar return to the village and bemoan the damage and the many civilian deaths.  Taj's brother was the one killed by the Russian tank and now Taj will be the Khan of the village.  Moustafa arrives with his small group of men on motorcycles.  Taj threatens to kill Moustafa for revenge for past wrongs, but Uncle Akbar intervenes and councils discretion.  Moustafa tells Taj and Uncle Akbar that one of the tanks has taken the wrong path and is now lost in the valley of the jackal.  Taj agrees to combining forces to take revenge on the tank. 

The Russian tank is getting reception, but cannot make transmissions.  At a stop, Koverchenko removes the hand of Taj's brother from the tracks and throws it on the ground for the others to see.

The Afghanis race after the tank.  One of the group stops to get a drink from a small waterhole.  Taj searches around the waterhole and sees a canister of Russian poison.  He tries to stop the man from drinking, but he is too late.  The man dies of the poison.  The Afghanis refer to the tank as the "beast". 

Tank commander Daskal wants Koverchenko to kill the Afghani working with them named Samad, who Daskal deems a traitor.  Koverchenko refuses to obey the order and Daskal warns him that with his record of insubordination, he should not fail to carry out another order.  But Koverchenko still refuses to carry out the order. 

The Afghanis catch up with the tank now at rest.  Golikov is wounded from the fragments of a grenade.  The men are able to get back into the tank through the hold beneath the belly of the tank.  The tank drives off. 

The situation for the Russians is getting desperate.  They have no water or food and they are very anxious about what the Afghanis will do next.  They turn on the tank's radar and pick up signs of from 25 to 35 Afghanis around them.  While they turn the turret 360 degrees in a circle they fire the machine guns and use the tank's flame thrower.  Daskal sends poor Samad out to check the damage.  Samad returns to tell Daskal that the Afghanis turned out to be a large herd of deer, many of which are dead now.

Stopping by a lake Daskal sends Samad out into the water to see how deep it is.  Samad is suspicious but Daskal insists.  When Samad is about waist deep in the lake Daskal shoots him in the back with the machine gun.  Koverchenko is mad as hell and protests the murder.  For his protests, Koverchenko winds up being tied down on a large rock and left behind.  A group of the village women find him and start to stone him.  They would probably have killed him, but the Afghani men arrive and stop them.  Koverchenko saves himself by using the Afghan word to request sanctuary.  Taj grants the enemy sanctuary. 

Taj and company feed Koverchenko then ask him to fix the RPG (rocket propelled grenade) launcher.  Koverchenko takes parts from an Engield rifle and repairs the launcher.  This wins him the approval of the Afghanis.  But now they want him to use the RPG to destroy the Russian tank.  Koverchenko hesitates and then agrees.

The Russian tank sees Kandahar Road in the near distance, but they cannot reach it because there is a canyon between them and the road.  Just when things look their darkest, a Russian helicopter sights them and lands.  The two enlisted men run for the helicopter and board it, but Daskal tells them to get off.  They are tankers and they are going to take the extra fuel from the helicopter to return to where they started.  (They have to because they are in a cul-de-sac.)

The tank returns to the poisoned waterhole and they find a Russian helicopter there.  But all the helicopter crew are dead from drinking the water.  And the Afghanis are only 1,000 meters away and closing fast.  The Russians try to start their tank but the battery is dead.  They finally get the tank working and take off.  But Koverchenko sees that it is losing oil fast and tells Taj to follow the tank as it is surely "kaput". 

It's quite a task to catch up with and then keep up with the tank, but Taj and Koverchenko manage.  Koverchenko fires the RPG ad hits the tank but only on the muzzle.  The tank continues on.  But then a sudden explosion at the top of the cliff sends an avalanche of huge rocks down on the Russian tank.  (The Afghani women set off a number of grenades causing the avalanche.)  Koverchenko throws a Molotov cocktail under the tank and the great machine starts to get extremely hot.  Daskal tries to kill himself and the other two tank crew with a grenade, but the two stop him.  All three get out of the tank.  They beg for mercy and Koverchenko asks for sanctuary for the crew.  The women want to kill the three Russians and so does Moustafa and his crew.  But Taj lets them go. 

Before Daskal leaves, Koverchenko tells him:  "Sorry, sir.  Not much of a war.  No Stalingrad.  . . . How's it that we're the Nazis this time?  . . . You can't be a good soldier in a rotten war.  I want you to live to see them win."

This time the two crew members take the correct fork in the road, while Daskal deliberately takes the wrong path.  The women catch up with him and stone him to death.  The other two Russians get away.  Koverchenko is rescued by a Russian helicopter. 


Good movie.  It's a good action flick that maintain the tenseness throughout the movie.  It is not filled with a lot of history, but does allow us to consider the fate of the Russians in Afghanistan. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

Soviet Occupation: Afghanistan 1979-88

1978 --  Soviets back a coup under Noor Mohammad Taraki.

1979 September 16-18  --  Hafizullah Amin overthrows and kills Taraki without Soviet approval.

1979 December 1-16  --  Soviets plan the ouster of Amin for fear that the mujahedeen (a loose alliance of Islamic rebel groups) would overthrow Amin and end Soviet influence in Afghanistan.

1979 December 24  --  Soviets seize Kabul Airport (directed by Lt. General V.S. Paputin).

1979 December 25  --  massive airlift of three divisions of Soviet troops coordinated with an invasion overland of four motorized rifle divisions. Amin killed during Soviet attack on his palace in Kabul. (General Paputin was killed.) The invasion creates 5 million Afghan refugees.

1979 December 28 -- Soviets make president Babrak Karmal, Amin's former Vice President.

1988 January-February --  widespread resistance by the Afghanis. The mujahedeen battles Soviet troops with the help of U.S. weapons and training.

1989 February: Last Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan.


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