Synopsis: A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.
Release Date: October 16, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, War
In order to give their customers more bang for their buck, subscription movie service Netflix has been producing original television series for the past few years. Now, they’ve taken the next logical step, and have produced a Netflix Original movie, a war drama called Beasts of No Nation. So, is it worth sticking in the Netflix queue? Well, yes and no.
Beasts of No Nation is about a young West African boy named Agu (newcomer Abraham Attah) who lives in a village that is just beginning to feel the effects of a civil war. When his village is evacuated, his family is separated and he goes with his father and the rest of the men. The National Army captures the men and executes them all, including Agu’s father, but Agu is able to escape by running through the jungle – and straight into the arms of the rebels. The Commandant (Idris Elba from Prometheus) sees something in Agu and takes him under his wing, teaching him how to be a good solider and promising him that learning to fight is the only way that he will be able to avenge his father’s killing. As the war rages on, Agu becomes one of the Commandant’s most fearless and trusted soldiers, but at the end of the day, he is still just a little boy.
Based on the novel of the same name by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation was adapted for the screen and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective”). The film is a powerful look at war through the eyes of a child, but not just a child affected by it – a child who has become a part of it. There are moments in the film that are very jarring, balancing the atrocities of war with the fun of child’s play by showing kids being kids one second and being soldiers the next. In one scene, the child soldiers are playing soccer in a dirt field when the game is interrupted by gunfire. In another, Agu and his young friends play a game with a blindfold while the other children stand around, fingers on their triggers, standing watch alertly.
Beasts of No Nation is an intense loss of innocence movie, but the loss is not complete for Agu. The most harrowing scene in the film occurs when the Commandant makes Agu kill his first man (a scene that is reminiscent of one from Fukunaga’s first film, Sin Nombre). Agu wants to be a good soldier, but pauses as his would-be victim cries and begs for his life. It’s a pivotal moment for Agu, the point of no return in which he chooses to be either a solider or a child. He chooses soldier, but the child in him refuses to die. It’s the most horrifying scene in the film, and not just because Agu is essentially forced to take another human life.
So, is Beasts of No Nation worth the time? Well, that depends on your level of patience. It’s a long movie, almost two and a half hours, and parts of it are slow and long-winded. When it does move, it moves briskly, and is as intense of a film as you’re bound to see. When it drags, however, it drags deeply. It’s an aesthetically beautiful film, and that makes up for some of the pacing problems, but it’s the type of movie that is digested more easily in little Netflix queue-sized bites rather than all at once.
There’s one reason why it’s a shame that Beasts of No Nation is hitting Netlfix on the same day that it is being released in theaters, and that is that most movie fans will save the money and watch it at home instead of tracking it down at a movie house. This is kind of a shame, because Beasts of No Nation is a beautifully shot movie that really deserves to be seen on a big screen. Cary Joji Fukunaga served as his own cinematographer on the film, and he has a great eye for both color and composition. Shooting on location in Ghana, a nation on the West coast of Africa, Fukunaga juxtaposes the ugliness of war with the absolute beauty of the landscape, capturing the lush greens of the forest and the striking pinks of the flowers. Even the vibrant oranges of the dirty water and the biting reds of human blood look gorgeous when Fukunaga photographs them. Beasts of No Nation has flaws as a film, but the cinematography is not one of them.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Cary Joji Fukunaga
- Producer(s): Cary Joji FukunagaAmy KaufmanRiva MarkerDaniela Taplin Lundberg
- Screenwriter(s): Cary Joji Fukunaga
- Story: Uzodinma Iweala
- Cast: Abraham Attah (Agu)Idris Elba (Commandant)
- Editor(s): Pete Beaudreau
- Cinematographer: Cary Joji Fukunaga
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Jenny Eagan
- Casting Director(s): Harrison Nesbit
- Music Score: Dan Romer
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA