Cribbing more than a few notes from the Taken handbook, The Beast unleashes a mentally unstable special forces veteran with a particular set of skills on the ruthless gang of undesirables who kidnapped his young daughter.
THE BEAST: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Leonida Riva doesn’t sleep anymore. He’s three years out of the special operations forces of the Italian military, and post traumatic stress has made him a broken man, estranged from his wife and children and pursuing therapy even though it’s not helping with the nightmares and flashbacks. “I can go on diagnosing you with drugs until you forget your own name,” his psychiatrist tells him. “Or we can try to come up with something else.” But as it turns out, something else finds Riva instead. His young daughter, left unattended at the ice cream parlor by his absentminded teenage son, is abducted. Riva and the cops arrive at the crime scene at the same time, and the chief inspector assures him that the police will do all they can to find his daughter. But the kidnappers are getting away, the cops are just standing around, and Riva is a man of action. He takes matters into his own hands, now coiled into fists.
Unburdened by the rules, Riva becomes The Beast. “You can’t wait to jump into the void,” his old army buddy says. “To go back on a mission. It’s the only thing we know how to do, right?” Riva tracks the kidnappers through the seedy underbelly of the city, through drug-infested night clubs and abandoned shipyards, and discovers a band of drug fiends, prostitutes and thieves who kidnap kids at the behest of a crime boss named Mozart. The cops are sorting it out, too, but they still think Riva might be connected, so he’s on his own. Car chases ensue. Various henchmen are subdued. A junkie perhaps wishes she made a few different life choices when she’s cowering in a meth lab, clutching a satchel of ill-gotten cash, and overhearing The Beast choke the life out of her drug buddy in the next room. Taking place over the course of one long, dark night in the city, The Beast is a grim, unsmiling film.
As Riva closes in on Mozart and his thugs, his son learns from the police about just how bad his dad had it while in the army — death, torture, and betrayal. The cops themselves are onto Mozart, too, but are still one step behind The Beast, and in a final showdown, all of his rage is channeled into one last chance to save his little girl.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of? The Taken vibes are strong here. Riva, the broken ex-soldier, finds his way toward redemption the only way he can, which is through brutally whaling on henchmen until he gets back his young daughter, who is seemingly the only person left on earth who can still love him. In its portrayal of contemporary Italy as a neon-streaked, hollowed out urban playground for lowlifes, murderous criminals, and child abductors, there are shades of Suburra (Netflix), as well as the gripping 2008 film Gomorrah, about criminal gangs at war in Naples.
Performance Worth Watching: In a film with so much darkness in its heart, the role of the morally vacant crime boss who lives by his own absurd code of ethics is key. Andrea Pennacchi (Suburra) understands this, and he’s perfect in The Beast as Mozart, weaving simultaneous threads of mustachioed flamboyance and casual sociopathy.
Memorable Dialogue: Simonetti, the chief inspector, understands who The Beast is, knows what he’s capable of. “Riva is not coming back,” he tells a colleague. “He knows he has lost any chance of friendly dialogue with us.” The cops not only have to find Riva’s daughter; they have to try and contain an uncaged animal.
Sex and Skin: Riva kicks the crap out of a cross-dressing prostitute in his search for information, and he infiltrates a bordello that doubles as Mozart’s headquarters.
Our Take: Like Liam Neeson in Taken, Italian actor Fabrizio Gifuni is a broad and forceful physical presence in The Beast. Glowering from under his eyebrows at the conventional world around him, he plays Riva as a man outside of it. And when it’s time to bust heads, he’s more than willing to destroy it in his search for truth. He’s a machine, once dormant, now powered up and firing on all cylinders. The Beast becomes that, too, and only that, once Riva’s search for his little girl kicks into gear. As the inspector on the case, Lino Musella is a smart, steady presence, but there isn’t much for him to do besides drink coffee, stalk the police department ready room in frustration, and doggedly chase after Riva. (As Angela, Riva’s wife, Monica Piseddu has even less to do.) There’s a single dimension here, and it’s The Beast’s relentless hunt for his kidnapped daughter. The cops can only react to it, his wife and son are left to wait around on the sidelines, and even his PTSD, while its severity is represented with violent flashbacks to Riva’s experiences in war, is only a mechanism to make the machine go. Watch out, bad guys. The Beast is on the loose.
Our Call: SKIP IT. While it goes all in on the skull cracking and henchmen fights, The Beast doesn’t surround its single minded protagonist with enough dramatic cellulose to offset or even validate his lawless persistence.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges
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