“You fight and kill anyone who destroys the peace!”
The life of a youngster can change in an instant. In an unnamed African village, youngster Agu (Abraham Attah), lives a safe and reasonably good life with his father, mother, older brother, younger sister, and grandfather. Even in the midst of oncoming war, Agu and his family are very blessed.
With the incoming forces arriving in their village, all of the women and extremely young leave for safety, but the males stay back and defend what their forefathers left for them. Unfortunately, their defense is short lived, as all are captured quickly and slaughtered, including all of Agu’s family. Agu flees, but is soon found by a rebel squadron with many young boys, led by the “Commandant” (Idris Elba). Facing death, Agu has little choice but to join, and soon becomes exposed to all of the wretchedness of war.
Let’s get this out of the way. Beasts of No Nation is a tough watch, made all the more impactful because even though it’s a fictional story (adapted from a fictional novel), it’s clear that its inspirations come from events in the past like Sierra Leone, and events that are probably ongoing now with little news coverage. It all equates to an unflinching portrait of war and the individuals, mainly the children, who are forced to partake in it.
BoNN is pretty straightforward, absent of a layered plot/storytelling, but the film doesn’t really need it. Early, the audience is shown the life of Agu, in his eyes. It isn’t anything revelatory, or even all that interesting, but I don’t think it is supposed to be. Essentially, its the life of a little kid, which is supposed to be normal and identifiable. Which makes the eventual story shift to the uneasy all the more sobering, because this is a world that few know about.
Written and directed by Cary-Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, True Detective season 1), there’s a real first-person documentary-ish feel in spots that lends to the feeling of authenticity, but also enough space to see the whole picture. For the bulk of the 137 minute runtime, there’s no hope or light at the end of the tunnel to be found, and it is just draining to view. Thankfully, the story isn’t a complete downer, and ends with the prospect of something positive.
The whole cast, from the bit players to the people front and center, is outstanding. Everyone adds to this experience of being unwilling people in a most challenging scenario. But, there are two performances that stand out, and definitely make Beasts of No Nation resonate more soundly. The work that teenager Abraham Attah turns in for his debut is nothing short of amazing, and it ranks up as one of the best young thespian roles ever, as well as one of the best lead acting jobs of 2015. The way Attah moves from happiness to fear to a state of shocking steeliness often all at once is impressive. He’s got this expression that says a thousand words, and his narrating voice gives a lot to the movie in the way of what Agu is thinking.
As pure evil, Idris Elba is magnificent. It’s hard to find shred of humanity in him, but like almost all great leaders, he has a level of charisma and gravitas that is impossible to resist, shown most clearly in scenes where he’s addressing the entire battalion. It’s like Jordan Belfort, but with more menace. And while a definitive African accent doesn’t exist as there are many dialects, Elba sounds legitimate, never struggling with it. It’s a powerful performance that needs to be recognized.
With Netflix being the distributor, not being able to find Beasts of No Nation shouldn’t be an issue. Multiple watches will surely be tough to do (I’m done with one, honestly), but the heavy content matter shouldn’t deter from being viewed.
Photo credits go to nydailynews.com, examiner.com, goodonnetflix.com, and thewrap.com.
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This movie was harrowing :O I think young Abraham Attah has a kick-ass career ahead of him should he decide to stay in the industry.
Me too, I definitely agree. As shallow as this may sound, I also think he’s going to grow to be a handsome young man, and will be afforded opportunities along with his acting skill.
I just bring this up because I look at someone like Barkhad Abdi who did amazing in Captain Phillips, but doesn’t really have the look for other things. Sad, but that is sometimes how the world works.
The way someone looks is a huge part of their success in Hollywood. It’s especially hard for women- Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson are popular, but also mostly reduced to fat girl roles, while they get continuously body shamed by people online. I haven’t seen Captain Phillips yet, but I intend to when I get the chance. I like Tom Hanks! Some of the best actors are really hard on the eyes to be honest, and their plainness lends them a credibility on screen (let’s face it, most everyday people are NOT attractive, let alone Hollywood attractive. But yes, Attah is a good-looking kid and offers up one of the better child performances I’ve seen in a while!
A very disturbing film, but it won me over. Abraham Attah and Idris Elba turn in some of the best performances of the year.
Couldn’t agree more, Tom. I really believe both should receive some major award love.
I’m really anxious to see this. Hope to watch it in the next day or two. Sounds like a tough film.
Definitely is. Just a one time watch for me, but the acting from the leads is phenomenal.
Watched it last night. Intense!
A really heavy drama. It’s a good movie and I agree one watch is enough for me. Nice review man!
Thanks for visiting. I don’t think I can do this again, but one watch is very unsettling and arresting. Elba’s performance might be top 5 of the year.
Ultimately I had to settle on a score that would be considered a C+ on your grading scale. I just didn’t think the script explored this idea with any sort of depth. However the performances are magnificent and I honestly would support Oscar nominations for both Abraham Attah and Idris Elba.
Hey, I definitely get it! 🙂 I don’t think that this should be nominated for best pic either; I haven’t seen everything that is a serious contender, but I can rattle off about 5-6 films that I believe are deeper/accessible/more cinematic. For the fun of it, I’ll say Inside Out, Sicario, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, even Mad Max/The Martian/Creed/Steve Jobs (can’t see all getting noms lol), with Dec. obviously being loaded and sure to bring more heavy hitters.
But, those lead performances, as you say, are magnificent. Both are deserving of Oscar talk and noms. Without them, this would have been a tough and dull watch. Performance-wise, I liken this to recent Oscar films like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. Great performances, kind of lacking in their scripts for me. Long comment over! 🙂
I saw the movie soon after it came out on Netflix but am still confused on this detail. Did Commandant rape/ make sexual advances on Agu?
Hey! I think it is pretty clear that he did.