Beasts of No Nation is an adaptation of a book by the same name written by Uzodinma Iweala. Written and directed by Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Season 1), it tells the story of a young boy in an unnamed West African country. The movie begins by showing us the normal family life Agu (Abraham Attah) is used to. Living in a house with his parents, siblings and grandpa and it is just a tease because before long (in a heart wrenching and terrifying scene) Agu is ripped away from his family and inducted into a rebel military group and becomes a child soldier in his war torn country. He is captured by them and saved from being killed by the Commandant (Idris Elba) who decides to take him under his wings. The rest of the movie is basically seeing the innocence of a child snatched away from him piece by piece as he sees and participates in the horrors that come with war.
I had low expectations for this movie. For one, I am not a fan of war movies. This was yet another war movie based in Africa, what more is there to tell? Plus it starred Idris Elba, who in all honesty I think is just an average actor (except for his role as John Luther). But I was still going to watch because there was so much hype surrounding it and it was Netflix’s first foray into original movies and…oh yea, Cary Fukunaga is hot (Thou shall not judge)
I have to preface this and say that I did not read the book but I liked this movie. I think what I liked the most about it was how genuine the emotions of each character came across. Don’t get me wrong, this movie was “a lot”. It’s a lot of harrowing moments and violence that hits you even harder when you realize that this is reality for some people. But regardless of what emotion it was – whether Agu having fun moments with his brother and his family, Agu recognizing his new reality or even the fellow child soldiers filled with such gusto, it read as genuine.
I am quite surprised that most critics are heaping praise on this movie because craft wise, it really wasn’t crafted that well. Just like the movie leaves the country ambiguous, a lot of the story line was left that way and you as a viewer have to make up your own interpretations. We never really delve into the cause of the war, certain scenes like the one between the Commandant and Agu, take you a minute to understand what happened because it was left vague.
In terms of acting, Abraham Attah completely nailed it as Agu. He was able to portray the transition from carefree child to scarred child quite well and conveyed his emotions quite well and we practically see the light dimming in his eyes as time progresses. Throughout the movie, he gives us voice overs to let us know his emotional state and even then you can feel the weight of the world in his words. Everytime he started out with “God…”, my heart broke. I have to give a special shoutout to the little boy who played Strika. He never uttered a word the whole movie but certain scenes completely got me. I also liked seeing his friendship with Agu develop. Idris Elba was Idris Elba, he did a good job as commandant even if in my head it was basically a 120 min chance to reenact the accent of his relatives that he might have heard from time to time.
I think I focused on the little things and the psychological head space of Agu during this movie and that’s what made me enjoy it more. The last two scenes in the movie were one of my favorites and will make you understand my previous sentence. Overall, I do recommend the movie, if you have time but it’s not an easy movie to watch, so be warned about that. It does make sense that it was on Netflix and not in theaters. The movie was not great enough to be in theaters but not terrible to be a tv movie, so Netflix was just right.