0385 | Beasts Of No Nation

720x405-beast_pds_008_hCary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation can be seen as a statement of intent by Netflix, given that the company has spent a year and many millions of dollars getting its original movie arm up and running; one or two Netflix’s own documentaries have already received critical praise such as last year’s Oscar-nominated Virunga – but this is the first original feature film they have put out, released for a week into selected cinemas to make it eligible for next year’s Academy Awards but now available to stream via the ever-expanding service. It was made for $6m, and Netflix bought exclusive rights for $12m, yet its relevance and future success may prove to be unmeasurable in fiscal terms: it signals the beginning of a new era in which the VOD industry will seek to further influence the viewing habits of millions and take its share of the financial pie away from the megaplex cinema chains, some of which unsurprisingly boycotted the movie.

It’s an engrossing but tough watch, and one that will surely result in the company gaining many new customers during the next six months. Fukunaga’s star has been in the ascendancy ever since he made the acclaimed Sin Nombre a few years back, and he has since displayed a keen desire to work within different genres and media; he took on costume drama with Jane Eyre, directed all eight episodes of the magnificent first season of TV drama True Detective, and now turns his attention to African child soldiers, adapting Uzodinma Iweala’s bestseller. Based around the life of a young boy named Agu (played superbly by Ghanaian actor Abraham Beasts of No NationAttah, making his screen debut), the story begins by detailing the child’s upbringing in an unnamed African country (though linguists and academics studying the original book have suggested it bears a strong resemblance to Nigeria). When we first see Agu he’s with several other kids and busy trying to sell what he calls ‘imagination TV’ to a few ECOMOG soldiers, the director filming the kids through the shell of a television set, perhaps aware of the fact that the majority of the audience will be used to watching images of African in such a way. The tone at the beginning is initially light: though war rages elsewhere in the country the lives of the children and their families in this village do not appear to be in any great immediate danger, but ruthless military-aligned rebels soon arrive and Agu is left to fend for himself in the jungle. He is eventually found by a platoon of the NDF, another rising rebel faction led by Idris Elba’s charismatic but despicable Commandant, and much of the subsequent running time of the film is devoted to Agu’s upsetting metamorphosis from carefree kid to ruthless child soldier. This incorporates a brutal initiation, abuse and several harrowing scenes of conflict and violence, the action staying with the platoon for the majority of the duration.

Made in Ghana, Fukunaga who is also the cinematographer shows no sign of being cautious or overwhelmed by the environment, which was presumably unfamiliar to him, and his camera movement is graceful while his numerous crisp shots from on high allow us to get a handle on the numbers of the militia group and the scale of the various camps they set up; first on top of a hill, later in an abandoned gold mine. He does not hold back with regard to the violence but neither does he milk it or stuff his film with action; when it comes it is quick, and extremely brutal: a boy murdered for failing to complete a training task, for example, or a woman who is shot in the head while she is being raped, and so on. Many of these acts are being perpetrated in the film by kids and teenagers, some of whom, like Agu, are barely able to lift and point the automatic weapons they carry. It’s understandable that some people will be put off from watching such upsetting subject matter, but Beasts Of No Nation is worth praising for the way it successfully highlights a growing problem: it is estimated that there are more than 300,000 child soldiers forced to fight in Africa today, and the film will surely draw more attention to their plight. It’ll be hard for Netflix to measure just how many new subscribers they receive as a result of any critical praise the piece receives, but hopefully the company will share at least a small percentage of its profits next year with charities such as War Child. Special mention must go to the cast: Emmanuel ‘King Kong’ Nii Adom Quaye also making his debut impresses as a mute child soldier named Strika, while Elba and Attah should both be receiving Oscar nominations. If they do not appear on the list of nominees it could potentially be the result of some kind of industry smackdown delivered to the company that happens to be distributing their film; I can’t think of any other good reason for either being ignored, with the usual caveats as we head into the season.

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga.
Written by: Cary Joji Fukunaga. Based on Beasts Of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala.
Starring: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Emmanuel ‘King Kong’ Nii Adom Quaye.
Cinematography: Cary Joji Fukunaga.
Editing: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen, Pete Beaudreau.
Music: Dan Romer.
Running Time:
137 minutes.

Comments 25

    • Stu October 21, 2015

      Thanks a lot Cindy. I am sure this would be a good fit for that kind of class (though it is quite graphic in its most violent scenes; I was surprised it was released over here with a 15 certificate, as opposed to an 18 certificate).

    • Stu October 21, 2015

      I agree. I have a feeling it’ll get snubbed due to the unconventional release, which would be a shame if it happens. Also it’s rare for them nominate a film for Best Picture that isn’t set in the US or in northern Europe. Not meaning to diminish the guy’s performance as it is excellent, but if it had been another Ghanaian actor instead of Elba, or an African director, I doubt there would be anything like the same buzz.

    • Stu October 22, 2015

      Cheers Mark, much appreciated. It is very good and the acting is top notch. By the way I heard you get a mention on the Next Reel’s podcast the other day after I subscribed. I’m enjoying it, thanks for the recommendation.

      • Mark Walker October 22, 2015

        Aah! Nice one bud. It’s a great little podcast. I’ve been listening to all of their back catalogue. They are very entertaining those guys. Glad to hear you’re liking it.

        I was quite surprised when that little mention popped up. It made my day.

        • Stu October 22, 2015

          It’s very good – when I get time I’ll try and dive into their back catalogue and pick a few out to listen to. I like Filmspotting and Kermode/Mayo too, so that’s about 5 hours’ worth each Friday even before I get on to non-film related stuff.

        • Mark Walker October 22, 2015

          I listen to Kermode/Mayo quite a bit too but haven’t checked Filmspotting. I’ll hunt it down.
          Been delving into that Goodfellas minute by minute and I also found a BIG Lebowski one that does the same thing but they’re quite the commitment.

        • Stu October 22, 2015

          I might give the Lebowski one a listen when GoodFellas finishes! Filmspotting has been going for a decade or so and is quite well established, but I’d never listened until a couple of months ago. The guys running it know their onions.

        • Mark Walker October 22, 2015

          How you finding Goodfellas? I’m only up to the 12minute but it’s good stuff.

          Checking for Filmspotting as we speak.

        • Stu October 22, 2015

          Very good thanks; quite amusing but also informative. I’m a little bit ahead of you but not by much – I just got to “funny how?”

        • Mark Walker October 22, 2015

          By the way, Stu, I notice Filmspotting do a lot of new releases. Are there spoilers involved? I know The Next Reel do spoilers and that’s why I like that they do a lot of older films.

        • Stu October 22, 2015

          They’re pretty good in that they don’t seem to give much away yet still manage to discuss one release a week for about 25 minutes. I’ve just listened to their review of Steve Jobs and they haven’t given away the ending…

        • Mark Walker October 22, 2015

          Cool! I tuned in a bit to their Nymphomaniac review. As you know I was a big fan of that and I don’t entirely agree with their view of it but they make some good points and have strong arguments. I could get really into these guys!

  1. Tom October 25, 2015

    Terrific observations Stu, I should have gone into a bit more detail about the reality surrounding child soldiers. The film is very hard to stomach, but maybe not quite as much as the fact that this is a growing epidemic in the world we live in. It’s perhaps because most of us are fortunate to have been born into loving, first-world environments that Beasts feels a little removed from reality, but Fukunaga’s depiction of violence and brainwashing all but assures (or should at least) the skeptics that this is a reality many are facing. Really turns your stomach.

  2. Todd Benefiel October 28, 2015

    I’ll give this one a go, since I (unbelievably) have access to it. I would never have searched this one out, or bothered to give it a second glance, but your review has sparked my interest. Maybe this weekend I’ll give it a look.

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