Known largely for directing the 2011 version of Jane Eyre and the first season of HBO’s True Detective, Cary Fukunaga is the first director/writer to bring an original movie to Netflix with Beasts of No Nation. And a film such as this, while deserving to be seen in theaters, is a great way to get viewers to watch it who would have otherwise not done so. Fukunaga brings a raw realism to the story of a child soldier and no matter how brutal it may be to witness the events unfold onscreen, it’ll make your heart constrict in frustration and sadness at the life no child should ever be forced to live.
Based on the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation is set somewhere in West Africa (the exact location never specified in the book or the movie) and follows Agu (Abraham Attah), a child soldier. Recruited and commanded by a man who goes only by Commandant (Idris Elba), Agu follows the man’s lead, serving him and his mission to defeat the various other militant groups, government or otherwise, fighting in a civil war.
The fact that child soldiers are no longer the center of the media’s attention doesn’t mean that they have disappeared from existence. And if you expect to go into this story with a happy ending in mind, then Beasts of No Nation will not be your cup of tea. Brutal, violent, and entirely too realistic at times, Fukunaga’s film is often hard to watch. But the violence isn’t for nothing and serves the story in showing that this life for a child is not of choice, but of necessity for survival. Fukunaga infuses the film with a balance of humanity between the bouts of brutality that make Agu’s story all the more heartbreaking.
First-time actor Abraham Attah is quite good in his role as Agu. When we first meet the young boy, he’s a happy child with a family and a sense of mischievous adventure. But as civil war breaks out and spreads to his village, we see any remnants of a regular child disappear in the wake of a brutal reality that he can’t wrap his head around completely. Attah is vulnerable, stoic, and still very much a child–not at all a beast like the title implies, but a product of his circumstances.
Idris Elba is a force to be reckoned with as the Commandant. His presence is domineering, overpowering, and his threats aren’t empty in the least. He has a god-like stance and everyone looks to him for direction without questions. He abuses his position of power but at the same time he is very much a father-figure to the younger soldiers as someone to be looked up to. Elba portrays a man who can’t be swayed, power-hungry but at the same time holding onto his power with a white-knuckled grip, and puts his facial expressions to good use.
Beasts of No Nation is a gripping story that is hard to turn your head away from even while it’s hard to sit through at times. Fukunaga maintains a good pace, there is enough dialogue for you to get the picture without having too much exposition. The film is presented from the point of view of Agu and there is no interference from the outside world to inform us of what’s happening outside of his world, which makes for a strong and more emotionally triggering perspective. Violent, but not without reason, Fukunaga brings out the best of his actors, his story, and his resources for a movie that will sit heavily in your heart and thoughts long after the credits roll.
Release Date: October 16, 2015 on Netflix and in select theaters | Director and Screenwriter: Cary Fukunaga | Cast: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Randy Aflakqui | Genre: Drama, War | MPAA Rating: Not Rated