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Film: The Beast Of War

Well, sir, the roadwheel's cracked. Kaminski drank our brakes. We're low on petrol. The battery's low. We're losing oil. If the engine heats up it's gonna seize. The terrain, obviously against us. We have no rations. The Mujas behind us don't seem to run on rations, petrol, or anything we know of. And they have an RPG. Their aim is getting better. Sir.

The Beast of War is a 1988 American war movie based on the play Nanawatai by William Mastrosimone.

During the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, a T-55 tank becomes separated from the main body of the army after obliterating an Afghan village. Trapped in a dead-end valley and hunted by vengeful muhajadeen the crew gradually turn on each other.


This film provides examples of:

  • Bilingual Dialogue - Sort of: The muhajadeen and the tank driver manage to improvise a patois around onomatopoeia and the names of weapons
    "RPG... Kaboom... tank?"
    "Da! RPG Kaboom tank!"
  • Big "NO!" - Koverchenko when Sammad is killed.
  • Bittersweet Ending - the tank commander is killed by the vengeful women of the village, in violation of the mercy their tribal leader had offered. the surviving tank crew flee further into the desert and most likely will die out there. The tank driver - who had allied himself with the rebels to get revenge on the hated tank commander - does not belong with the tribe and leaves with a rescue helicopter toward an uncertain fate.
  • Booby Trap - The Soviet tank crew leaves one of their own comrades tied to a rock with a grenade under his head. ("If you want anything, just nod.")
    • The tank crew also do the same with a defective cannon shell, which claims one of the Mujahideen following them.
  • California Doubling - Israel for Afghanistan.
  • Chained to a Rock - The Russian protagonist is tied to a rock by his own comrades and booby-trapped for the Afghan rebels to find. When he's attacked by wild dogs and the grenade slips from under his head, some frantic wriggling is required to let the grenade roll out from under him, over the edge of the rock where it detonates (fortunately driving off the dogs). Convincing the Afghans not to cut the throat of this served up infidel is another matter (but it helped that he learned the phrases for "mercy" from the Afghan translator beforehand).
  • Chekhov's Rocket Launcher - the sole RPG that the Afghan rebels have left, and the only weapon on hand that can take out the "beast". At the movie's start, it's broken... but the tank driver fixes it, proving his worth to the rebels. When it comes time to use it, however, it fails to damage the tank. It's left to an improvised rock slide by the tribal women to immobilize the tank.
  • Deadly Gas: When the tank is stoned by the village women, a chemical grenade is dropped out the bottom escape hatch. The women all flee except for one who's on top of the tank and doesn't realise the danger.
  • Dirty Communists - the tank crew aren't especially political - except for the commander, who earned his rank fighting in World War II and beats the Soviet propaganda to the fullest - but they clearly live in a fearful state of screwing up and suffering some Soviet punishment, which only drives them to turn on each other rather than unite as the situation gets worse.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The opening attack on the village has the protagonists all wearing gas masks, partly because of all the dust kicked up, but also because they're using chemical weapons.
  • Heroic BSOD: Koverchenko after convincing the Afghans to spare the tank crew's lives, and the women of the village show up with Daskal's blood-covered uniform and boots.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard - The tank commander refuses to trust the Afghan crewmember on anything, which leads to the tank getting lost from the rest of the command. The commander then kills the Afghan crewmember without any proof the man was betraying them to the attacking rebels. This alienates the tank driver, who threatens to report this to their superiors first chance he gets. This leads to the tank commander chaining the driver - the one man who could have reasonably got them back to safety - to a rock as a trap for the pursuing rebels. But the tank driver learned a few words from the Afghan crewmember - such as the phrase for "mercy" that no Afghani can ignore - basically gifting the rebels someone who can stop that tank once and for all...
  • Honor Before Reason - the tank commander insists on driving the tank (and its increasingly frustrated crew) all the way back to their base, even though they are clearly lost in enemy territory and the smart move was to take any relief transport out. When the commander threatens to shoot a helicopter crew that offered to get them back home, you know he's losing it...
    • When the tank is finally caught in a rock slide, and out of ammo to fight back, the tank commander offers up two grenades to his remaining crew and suggest they "become heroes." The two crewmen subdue the commander and immediately surrender to the rebels.
  • Just Plane Wrong: A French-built, Israeli-operated Aérospatiale Super Frélon stands in for the Soviet Mi-8 "Hip".
  • Market-Based Title: Known simply as The Beast outside America.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Toward the end of the movie they finally make it back to where they got separated from the other tanks, and the commander stares in silence at the track marks leading off in one direction whereas theirs lead off in the other. At the beginning of the movie he ignored the advise of his driver that they were heading in the wrong direction.
  • Not So Different - the tank driver and the tribal leader (khan) could have been friends in a different reality.
  • Only Sane Man - the newly-promoted khan of the Afghan tribe pursuing the tank is more sensible and level-headed than the rest of his tribe, especially compared to his reckless and corrupt cousin and to his sister-in-law who's gone mad witnessing her husband's death under the tank's treads.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Koverchenko delivers one to Daskal.
    "Sorry, sir. Not much of a war. No Stalingrad. How is it that we're the Nazis this time? How is that? I tried to be a good soldier. But you can't be a good soldier in a rotten war, sir. I want you to live to see them win."
  • Reckless Gun Usage: A moment of Black Comedy occurs when the cousin is trying to work out how to fire the RPG and launches off a rocket.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge - most of the Afghan rebels pursuing the tank are this, especially the tribal women led by the grieving widow whose husband was crushed by the tank's treads. Subverted by the newly appointed tribal leader who stays level-headed for most of the film.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The Pashtun rebels spare the life of Koverchenko when he appeals to their traditional code of Pashtunwali, which requires even an enemy to be given sanctuary if he asks. Though some of the rebels argue that the rules shouldn't apply to Dirty Communists who've learnt a single word of their language (nanawatai = sanctuary), the fact that he'd been left for dead by his comrades (and is willing to repair an RPG in order to blow them up in payback) is a significant factor in his defence.
  • Smart People Play Chess - the Afghan translator and the tank driver bond over games of chess. The tank commander, already distrustful of the translator, doesn't share their interest in the game and uses it as a reason to distrust the tank driver...
  • Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan - the setting
  • Tanks, But No Tanks - the eponymous beast is in fact a Ti-67; a T-54/55 captured by Israel from Egypt or Syria, refitted with new armament, seats, optics et al., and pressed into Israeli service.
  • Tank Goodness - ...But unlike many other movies, the only thing that makes the tank used and the tank depicted are modifications. For all intents and purposes, it's a T-55.
  • Translation Convention - the Russian tank crew speak English, while the Afghans speak Pashtu with English subtitles.
  • Tactful Translation - The Soviet tank commander orders a villager to be placed in front of his tank-track to encourage him to talk. His wife comes running up and is grabbed by the Afghan translator. I can't remember the exact words but it goes something like this:
    Translator (in Pashtu): "Get out of here, woman. This one prefers bullets to words!"
    Wife (struggling): "You dirty traitor, tell this Russian pig to let my husband go!"
    Translator (in English (Russian)): "Sir, this woman respectfully requests you release her husband."
    Tank Commander: "Ask him where the rebels are."
    Villager: "Mujahadeen are all around you! They will kill every one of you!"
    Translator: "He says he doesn't know."
    The tank commander isn't fooled, and drives over the villager.
  • Unfriendly Fire - The tank commander kills the Afghan member of his crew, convinced he's working for the mujahadeen pursuing them. Also lampshaded between two crewmembers who don't like each other much.
    Kaminski: You better watch your ass, Koverchenko. You know, sometimes Afghan snipers pick off tank drivers.
    Koverchenko: Sometimes tank drivers pick 'em off first, Kaminski.
  • War Is Hell
  • World War II - the tank commander fought in the war as a boy, used in suicidal missions to blow up German tanks. The irony that he is now in charge of an invading tank is lost on him.
  • You Owe Me - Subverted - A Soviet soldier knocks down an Afghan rebel pointing a jezail musket at a fellow soldier and says, "You owe me." The soldier doesn't bother telling him that the Afghan had actually pulled the trigger a moment before, but the weapon had misfired.
  • Water Source Tampering - the Soviet tank crew is shown emptying poison canisters into a well while attacking a village. Later on one of the mujahadeen is killed when he drinks from a poisoned well.
    • The Soviets' poisoning of every water source they come across ends up biting them in the butt later, as a Soviet helicopter crew unknowingly drinks from a pond the tank crew had poured cyanide into earlier and all die - before they can radio assistance for the stranded tank.
  • We Are Struggling Together - as they get lost and as the situation worsens, the tank crew turns on each other rather than unite and trust each other to get themselves back home.
    • The muj have elements of this too, but they're more effective in the long run.
The Battleship PotemkinMilitary and Warfare FilmsBehind Enemy Lines
The BearFilms of the 1980sBeetlejuice

alternative title(s): The Beast Of War
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