To say that being personally involved and experience first-hand the ravages of war, is a testament of one’s true character, and can be scarring and traumatizing to the human psyche, is an understatement. The topic of war can bring about a plethora of emotions, dialogues and discussions of both humanitarian constructs, as well as political. Lives are given, agendas are furthers, nations are served, whatever the cost. Many films on this topic have been made; grand, larger than life, epic period films about every war imaginable, mostly centering around conflicts faced by the United States Of America, during the more popular, recognizable wars that are known by history the world over.
However, Netflix’s own original production of ‘Beasts Of No Nation’, showcases a lesser known war that focuses not on the large world ending repercussions of it all, but rather the impact this can have on a young innocent boy, and the repercussions of it on his life alone.
‘Beasts Of No Nation’ is a movie about an African War, that causes its residents to leave behind their homes and lands to get to safety. Unable to leave with their families, most of the men stay behind to protect their homes and lands. The story revolves around one such little man named Agu, who stayed behind with his father and brother, only to get caught up in the war. After witnessing the death of his father and brother in front of him, Agu escapes, only to be found and adopted by a rebel group of soldiers, fighting against the regime. Agu becomes indoctrinated as a child soldier, forced to murder and pillage, despite being a pre-adolescent boy of no more than 9-10 years old.
The movie is graphic; both in terms of content and the emotional effect the subject matter can have on someone. ‘Beasts Of No Nation’ is a rare movie that shows the up close effects and details of how child soldiers are created, while showcasing the mind frame of those soldiers themselves, as Agu occassionally narrates his feelings and situation throughout the film. It’s a disturbingly tragic look into the mind frame of such a child soldier, for whom Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the least of his worries. Feeling ashamed, and assuming that God hates him due to his actions, Agu’s transformation is amazing and actor Abraham Attah is beautifully brilliant in the role.
The young Attah is a revelation in his performance as Agu. While not wearing his emotions on his face, Attah is able to convey the complete range of emotions needed as a young man being taught to kill for a purpose beyond his understanding. One hopes that Attah gets many more opportunities in Hollywood, as his is a talent not to be wasted. Accompanying him, the only known face of this film, is Idris Elba, every fan’s desire to be the next Bond. Elba sheds everything that is his established image in the industry, by essentially playing the role of a brutal warlord that employees these child soldiers in a fight to pursue the liberation of his people in Africa, from what he thinks is the wrong administration. Elba is commanding in his performance and surprisingly powerful in a supporting role to a younger actor.
Director Cary J. Fukunaga is no stranger to dark stories that explore the human psyche, as he cut his teeth on the break out HBO miniseries ‘True Detective’. Fukunaga uses subtle tones and the overwhelming natural backdrop of Ghana, where the film was shot, to tell his story, allowing the natural outdoor locales to bleed into the characters, and setting of the story. The cinematography never once looks exaggerated or stylized, but rather real in it’s subtle beauty. Fukunaga takes his time telling the story, allowing the happier moments of Agu’s life to linger and have an effect on the audience, as much as the more tragic moments in the latter half of the film. Even the ending of the movie is a quiet and somber one, instead of going out on a bang. While the story isn’t out to shock and awe, but rather show the slow turmoil of a young life placed in incredible circumstances, and the dulling effect it has on his humanity.
‘Beasts Of No Nation’ is a slowly brutalizing film that drags out emotions and doesn’t ask for any sympathy from the audience. The story sets the protagonist Agu in horrible conditions, progressing him from good to bad actions, and allows the audience and Agu himself, to react on their own time to the atrocities being witnessed on screen. It’s a great technique that doesn’t preach or sermonize the events on screen building towards a moral or message, but rather just shows the life of a child soldier, becoming so due to circumstances of life, rather than any political agenda or higher calling.