From Netflix and director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective), comes Beasts of No Nation, based on the novel from Uzodinma Iweala. Starring Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, the film is now playing in limited theatrical release and streaming on Netflix right now.
Agu, a young boy in an unnamed West African nation, is recruited into a unit of guerrilla fighters as civil war engulfs his country. Haunted by his father’s own death at the hands of militants, Agu is vulnerable to the dangerous yet paternal nature of his new commander. While the war rages on, Agu becomes increasingly divorced from the life he had known before the conflict started—a life of school friends, church services, and time with his family still intact.
Abraham Attah is a star. This little kid who plays the lead in Cary Fukunaga’s feature film debut Beasts of No Nation is astounding. When Agu’s life is turned upside down after his village is assaulted by the army and much of his family are killed in the process, he runs for his life and runs right into the arms of a sadistic rebel leader played by Idris Elba. The way Fukunaga presents West Africa is both beautiful and disturbing in the same way he showed us the dark South in True Detective. This is a nation that is gorgeous but can turn frightening at the flip of a switch and it absolutely will on frequent occasion. Seeing children carrying machineguns and charging into open battle is something that nobody should ever get used to and Beasts of No Nation does not shy away from the shocking reality of how guerilla warfare is still being fought today.
Idris Elba delivers the performance of his career playing the commander of a group of rebels, mostly compromising of children. The way he gets into their heads and fires them up before sending them into battle is damn convincing. There is more than one occasion where I almost believed in him and make no mistake — he is not a good person. He is doing horrible things to these kids by twisting them and turning them into warriors, stealing their childhood in every imaginable way. Elba is a tour-de-force here and his performance is so damn good that I don’t think I’ll ever forget those moments where he’s giving his speeches to those kids or that scene where he hands a machete to Agu and forces him to kill a prisoner.
Beasts of No Nation had an Apocalypse Now vibe to it, because it really delves deep into the darkest corners of this war and Agu’s head as he slowly transforms from this harmless child into a seasoned killer. As graphic as the film can get at times, none of it came across as tasteless and the violence was not gratuitous in any way — just extremely effective. Fukunaga did a tremendous job with the first major Netflix film to receive same day theatrical and streaming releases. This is one hell of a way to come out swinging and I would be shocked if there weren’t Academy Awards in consideration for the film.
My only gripes come from the awkward conclusion where everything kind of just…. fizzles away. The absolute ending however, Agu’s mesmerizing speech — all of that was brilliant… It’s the strange wrap-up to Idris Elba’s character and the fallout from the dissolution of his guerilla rebels that didn’t seem natural. Not that it was rushed by any means, but the pacing was all out of whack. This is a minor complaint though in a film that is an absolute must-see, especially since everyone can literally just go turn on their televisions, fire up Netflix and check out a potential Awards winner right freaking there. That in itself is an accomplishment.