~ Unforgettable, five stars ~
Beasts of No Nation is a heartbreakingly important film that will outlive the Netflix PR hype for it’s devastatingly visceral image of warring Africa.
Based in an unnamed West African country Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a reality that the majority of the Western world ignores.
We don’t want to see children waging illegitimate wars. Innocent men, women and children slain by the hand of polluted minds, or the corruption of innocence. And yet, Fukunaga doesn’t shy away from these visceral images that develop into one of the greatest screen character transformations of the modern era.
Abraham Attah delivers a ground-breaking performance as Agu. ‘Child. Captive. Killer.’ Fukunaga shines a light on the innocence of childhood and the importance of family in the opening scenes that tour Agu’s humble village that idly rests in a buffer zone between warring factions of government soldiers and rebels. School is no longer an option for the children of the village and Agu and his friend Dike soon take to little scams to fill their days.
No more so does Fukunaga show his deft talent behind the camera than during the opening scene which sees Agu and Dike scouring the village for talent to join their amateur performance venture, ‘Imagination Television’. Removing the screen from his father’s television Agu carries this TV around and puts on shows in order to make a little money. While it is all a little bit of fun for Agu and the audience Fukunaga shines a light on a poignant issue, lying dormant behind the smiling laughter of the viewer.
The potential of a child’s imagination should not be exposed to the brutality of war: to virulent violence and unfathomable horrors. Yet that is exactly the position Agu finds himself in when his Mother leaves the village and his father and brother are executed by government soldiers. Fleeing for his life the cold-blooded shots and screams of horror travel within him before he stumbles across the NDF, or Native Defense Force.
Idris Elba emerges from the bush as the battalion’s Commandant, effectively established by a leading cult of personality that begins to rub off on Agu as he is captured and enlisted as an NDF soldier. Promised the heads of those responsible for destroying his family Agu is lead by idealistic hope but with no other option he soon becomes a fully fledged soldier in the NDF, subjected to the horrors of war, rape, prostitution, drugs, and death.
This is not an easy watch. Fukunaga complements the novel with rich cinematography that bring graphic realities to life through a gorgeous colour palette and sweeping camera manipulation. But it is a story first and foremost, an artform second and everything else follows.
This is a journey through warring Africa but it is a story told through the eyes of Agu. The camera rarely looks down upon him, but instead is level with his eye line for the entire film. The camera is Agu.
Beasts of No Nation is a tragic tale of loss that hits home in the quieter, solemn moments of reflection and rememberance. Yet, this is not a film that looks to the past. This is a film that depicts current realities, a film that brings horrific images to the comfort of our own home, a film that doesn’t dwell on the lost comforts but instead depicts a gritty and grim reality of which the majority of viewers are ignorant.
The heartbreaking reality is what makes this film so important. Too much was said about Netflix’s venture into production and not enough about how important the film, as an entity of deliverance and enlightenment, may be to the audience who take the time to soak it up and revel in it’s brutal wonder.
Beasts of No Nation is an expressive Must-see with the stand out performance of the year by Abraham Attah. Mature and uneasy, Agu is a microcosm of life in warring Africa that is difficult to forget and yet easily ignored by materialistic masses seeking their next 100 likes.
Thrust into the throes of war Agu’s childhood is stripped away but his innocence is never lost. His ferocious stamina spurred by the beast within never taints his sympathy for life despite the terrifying darkness of an uncertain future.
If you have Netflix then I Recommend you watch this, right now!