Beasts of No Nation

One of the most stirringly uncomfortable films of the year, Beasts of No Nation will likely have the same effect that 12 Years a Slave did. You know, the “I’m sure it’s great and powerful, but I can’t watch it,” effect. 12 Years a Slave managed to win best picture at The Academy Awards, although some claim it was because voters checked the box, not because they watched the film. Beasts of No Nation has a lot riding on it as the first feature film distributed by streaming media company Netflix. Their decision to open the film in theaters and on Netflix the same day has already resulted in a boycott from some major US theater chains. True Detective director Cary Joji Fukunaga, also screenwriter and cinematographer for the film, faces a tough battle to have this jarring film seen and voted for this awards season.

Young Agu (Attah) is trying to sell a television box with no device inside to the local soldiers protecting his unnamed African town. “Imagination TV” he calls it, as his childhood friends and siblings perform various skits from the other side. Agu has loving parents and a kind, generous neighborhood, but with one announcement, the guards abandoned the borders. Agu’s mother and younger siblings must flee to the capital, while he and the males of the village stay to protect their homes. “Nothing is ever the same. Everything always changes,” Agu learns, as he is soon forced to flee for his life into the jungle. After his capture his childhood comes to an abrupt end when a gun is placed in his little hands, and he is forced to carry out violence on “the enemy” with his new big family of strangers.

It’s difficult to think of another war film that has such beauty in the telling of such horror.

Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is heartbreaking and whether it ends up an award contender or not shouldn’t devalue what he has created. It’s difficult to think of another war film that has such beauty in the telling of such horror. You will also be hard pressed to find another young actor to match the intensity and complete immersion of newcomer Abraham Attah. The film’s best hope at breaking into the awards season conversation is likely with the brutal supporting performance from Idris Elba (Mandela, Pacific Rim). It’s a raw and unforgettable turn for the actor who never shy’s away from challenging portrayals.

There are a handful of scenes, including one where the young rebels take charge of a bridge using guns and explosives, that are edited in a way that feels like an optimistic power surge as the music swells and the images are slowed. Fukunaga’s never allows the audience to forget what is happening, that children are being raped of their childhood, among other things. We see characters barely introduced, die, characters that last for hours on screen, just fade away; brutally visualizing modern day war. At one point Agu, through voice over, explains even if he survives, he is changed, and we cry for the loss of that beautiful smile as seen through the Imagination TV.

Final Thought

A riveting and explosive look into modern day war through the eyes of a child.


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