Within Beasts of No Nation’s first hour I teared up three times and cried once. No punches are pulled in director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s brutal depiction of war as a child soldier. The film is an adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name. Forgive the cliched statement.. but Beasts of No Nation grabs you by the throat and does not let go.
Beasts of No Nation stars 14-year-old newcomer Abraham Attah as Agu. Attah was discovered cutting class and playing football(soccer) when he was approached to audition for the film. He plays a lovable kid from an unnamed West African nation that is devolving into civil war. Agu comes from a family much like any other. A loving mother and father, a big brother only concerned with his muscles and showing them to girls, and a grandpa that “has the lights on but no one is home”.
Attah’s performance is captivating to say the least. This kid deserves all the awards. Despite being a young and inexperienced actor; Attah commands your attention while sharing the screen with veteran actor Idris Elba. Elba plays a charismatic military leader known only as “Commandant”. He serves as a surrogate father figure that the young boys fear and admire. Elba has a strange talent for playing a cruel character and getting you to root for him regardless.
I must also applaud Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye as Strika. He becomes a friend to Agu soon after his transition into a child soldier. Quaye conveys so much emotion in the tiniest of moments without saying anything. His ability to convey so much through body language and facial expressions is something to be admired.
Beyond a wonderful cast, the film features beautiful visuals and audio. A scene featuring Agu’s first use of “brown-brown” stands out in particular. Brown-brown is a mixture of cocaine and smokeless gunpowder. It was reportedly given to child soldiers in West African conflicts. The colors and sounds of the film change to reflect Agu’s hallucinations in subtle yet visually stunning ways.
The film is worthy of praise in so many different categories but I found myself most impressed by their depiction of war’s brutality. It is common to see war movies that glorify the main characters on the right side of morality. It’s often depictions of the U.S. military as the conquering heroes or, oddly enough, as the underdogs.
Beasts of No Nation shows the perspective of a true underdog. We experience life through the eyes of children struggling to survive the environment they are now a part of. We observe their most horrific acts, how they cope, and how they struggle with what they have done. The film is 2 hours and 17 minutes long but I would recommend giving yourself some time after to process.
Beasts of No Nation paints a visceral depiction of war. There are no “good” or “bad” guys. There are survivors and there are the dead. That is what it comes down to as the film taunts your sense of morality. Beasts ventures into the darkest recesses of humanity without regard for how uncomfortable it may make you.
For all these reasons I applaud Beasts of No Nation. It dares to show the true face of war. It illustrates the manipulation, propaganda, and primal emotions that are exploited to convince youth to go to war. The reality of wars futility and suffering are on full display. Fury is another film that recently touched on this but to a much smaller extent.
While watching Beasts it’s important to recognize the truth in its portrayal of war. Every brutal scene has likely happened somewhere in the world within the last week. I know this is hard for many to acknowledge but it’s important that we understand war for what it truly is and not for the fantasy its become.
Beasts of No Nation is a powerhouse of a film that will leave you feeling way more than you want to. Transitioning from happiness to sadness and back in a moment is commonplace. I encourage everyone to check it out on Netflix or their local theater if it’s playing nearby. Beasts of No Nation is one of those films you may not want to watch but you need to see. 5 out 5. Go see this film.