As is the usual case when Africa becomes the setting for a major film, heavy drama is to ensue. Adapted from the novel of the same title by Uzodinma Iweala, director and screenwriter Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation is a big step for Online channel Netflix in it’s foray into feature film. Whilst it’s Netflix appearance is assured, Fukunaga delivers a film that is a must to be seen on the big screen.
Commencing on a light-hearted and funny opening, we’re introduced to the young mischievous Agu and his family. Living in a buffer zone with war encroaching, life appears settled and full of childhood wonder for Agu. But it is all change when trouble is set to intrude their land. With no room to be taken to the city with his mother, Agu is forced to stay with his father and brother. When both rebels and the army raid the town, Agu and his family are stripped of any identity, rights or humanity as they are indiscriminately killed by the army, Agu escaping.
In the wild, Agu is caught again in another crossfire and at the mercy of captors. This time the Commandant, Idris Elba, who takes him in his command of rebels, spares his life. With two eyes and hands, this is all the tools to make for a soldier for the Commandant. Under the peerage and preaching of the Commandant, Agu’s dark journey slips down further as he loses the innocence of his childhood and furthermore humanity as he becomes just as in discriminant as the army who took his family.
Idris Elba will potentially looked at Beasts of No Nation as a vehicle for an Oscar nod, but all the performance plaudits must go to it’s young cast and in particular newcomer Abraham Attah, Agu, who charms the audience instantly as a boy of mischief but then commands our empathy even when his humanity and morale compass have been stripped and no longer recognises himself as a child anymore. The violence and horrific killing provide enough shock and horror to keep the eyes wide open. As Beasts of No Nation is not set anywhere in particular, the politics feels a bit generalised and unspecific, but then it probably would not want to illustrate the tragedy of child soldiers as a local problem. Visually the film is at times mesmeric, almost on par with Terrence Malick but the score is as enchanting as it is moving. Fukunaga has pulled off a film that must surely be coveted by the Oscars without the feeling pining for Hollywood glory.