*Please note when a movie airs on Netflix, it may slip under my radar. And if it’s in select theaters it can only be within 50 miles of my home. So thank you for withholding comments that I’m an ignorant racist. I appreciate it.*
Not going to lie. That was rough, and I’m speechless. The first theatrical movie ever produced by Netflix, this chilling war drama premiered on the aforementioned streaming service on October 16, 2015, as well as select theaters. Writer-director Cary Fukunaga faithfully adapts the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, in what would have easily made my best of the year list. We follow the dark and intense story of Agu, a young boy from Western Africa that first-hand experiences the horrors of civil war. Eventually, he himself gets pulled into the conflict as a soldier. And while he is a gentle boy at heart, he found that was capable of truly terrible acts. Agu is played by newcomer Abraham Attah, and as I was watching this movie I thought to myself, “Why don’t I or anyone else know anything about this kid?” That’s the beauty of these gems, that they might reveal someone with absurdly great acting abilities. You understand the struggles that this child is going through, physically, mentally, and emotionally. At a certain point in the narrative, there is an absolute moment where he believes that this war is his way of life now. You see it on his face. Throughout the 137 minute-long picture, he is narrating as a way of “talking to God,” or anyone who will listen to his prayers. It straight up reminded me of Mad Max: Fury Road, when the concubines were praying to anyone who would listen. He starts taking various drugs and alcohol as a form of coping with his manic-depressive side and to illustrate his gradual loss of innocence. Obviously, this film has many social undertones and implications. For example, one of the only friends that Agu makes during the civil war is Strika, a mute boy no older than Agu himself. He cares for him in bad situations, teaches basic methods of survival and warfare, and plays games with him to cheer Agu up. It opens up the argument that as far as child soldiers go, he wasn’t that bad of a person. But then there’s the flip-side of it where as far as child soldiers go, he was still a child soldier. That is probably the most accurate depiction of the mental situation many of these people have to go through in real life. Other characters in this film, however, are just completely apathetic psychopaths, such as Idris Elba as the Commandant, leader of the rebel forces. The man keeps impressing me with each performance he gives, killing it in every role he demonstrates. There will be at least a few actors who get more work; Idris Elba is definitely going to be one of them. The Commandant is violent, he’s sadistic, he’s unpredictable; he just loves causing fear and pain to others. There a few scenes he shares with Agu where you are just baffled at the things he says and does, like when he invites Agu into his bedroom for a secret encounter. Again, the movie is so realistic and brutal and never apologizes for demonstrating it. And the film looks great as well. The cinematography captures both the gorgeous and horrific aspects of the African jungles, where a large portion of the story takes place. During some intense moments or drug-induced episodes, the film tint is altered to feel more thematic. If I haven’t professed it already, Beasts of No Nation is a very emotional, sometimes sad movie. I don’t think I have cried so openly during a movie in quite a long time, yet another attribute to it’s power and delivery. If I were to compare films together, then Beasts of No Nation is like the Schindler’s List of genocide in Africa. Now if I told you that this movie was an easy experience, that would a be bold-faced, B.S. lie. It is hard and painful to watch. But I will profess that Beasts of No Nation is absolutely worth watching, dare I say necessary. Exploring potent themes of cruelty, innocence, faith, hope, and the line between Good and Evil, this is one film that I and many other people will be thinking about for a very long time. Although way too upsetting to watch more than once the type of film where after you finish watching it, you just sit on your couch or chair or any comfortable spot in dead silence for several minutes.