• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:August 2, 2021

Beasts of No Nation: Child’s Play


beastsofnonationNetflix is a streaming media provider, but one with ambition. Not content with becoming the equivalent of McDonald’s in this business, Netflix wants you to know that it can produce quality entertainment. We’ve already seen them make TV shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, but now they want to win Oscars too. Beasts of No Nation is their first feature film, launched simultaneously in theaters and online. God knows what their fresh collaboration with Adam Sandler will result in. But this first stab at original movies has credibility.

War is coming
Agu (Abraham Attah) is a small boy living in a village in an unnamed West African country. When war rapidly approaches, Agu’s father (Kobina Amissah-Sam) decides to take up arms and to get his wife and children in safety. But there’s a rush to get women and children away from the village and when there’s no room for Agu in a car that takes his mom and siblings, the boy remains with his dad. When the soldiers arrive, Agu’s father is one of many innocents to be murdered and the boy escapes into the woods. After a while, he’s found by rebel soldiers who turn him into one of their own…

Revolting depiction of child soldiers
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga worked on the script for many years and the process of filming in Ghana wasn’t easy. He caught malaria, then ended up shooting the whole film himself (not the original plan), and Idris Elba (who plays the commander of the rebel soldiers) almost fell off a cliff. Somehow they all survived, with a good movie in the can.

Based on a novel by a Nigerian writer, Uzodinma Iweala, the film has its characters talking in a way reminiscent of Nigerian languages, but never identifies the setting. What we get instead is a general, engaging but tragic and often revolting depiction of how children are used in African war zones. Some critics have attacked Beasts of No Nation for reinforcing stereotypes, but when a film addresses real issues as realistically as this one (even casting actual former child soldiers) it’s hard to take the complaints seriously. Fukunaga makes us understand not only Agu’s situation (as the boy struggles with the realization that what he’s doing is wrong), but also Elba’s commandant who is a monster but not to his men and the kids who look up to him. They need someone to project strength and authority, combined with a degree of naughtiness, and that’s what he does.

Elba is perfect in that role, but Attah is even better as young Agu; under Fukunaga’s tutelage, he’s the real key to the film’s success, the reason why we defy our first instinct to look away from these horrors. Beautifully made, the film can’t quite escape the feeling that we know its every move beforehand… but it is nevertheless gripping.

The first weekend in theaters was a box-office disappointment, but Netflix must have counted on it. After all, most theater chains boycotted it because they don’t like the strategy of releasing the film online the same weekend, and Netflix only needed a short run in theaters to qualify for the Oscars. Regardless of what you think of their strategy, it is definitely part of the future. And this film is almost as good in your TV at home as on a big screen.

Beasts of No Nation 2015-U.S. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Daniel Crown, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Amy Kaufman, Riva Marker, Daniela Taplin Lundberg. Written, directed and photographed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Novel: Uzodinma Iweala. Cast: Abraham Attah (Agu), Idris Elba (Commandant), Ama K. Abebrese (Mother), Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Kobina Amissah-Sam, Grace Nortey.

Last word: “For me, sound design is almost if not more important than visuals. It’s part of my fear that when people don’t watch this film at the cinema they won’t experience the film as it was intended to be on an auditory level. If you watch it on your laptop or iPhone, you’re definitely not going to get the sound. The sound was designed to be completely immersive and bring people into that experience of a war itself. To hear those bullets whizzing by, to hear those call-outs, to hear the jungle and the animals – it all gets weaved into it.” (Fukunaga, Way Too Indie)



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