Beasts of No Nation finally arrived on Netflix to my delight this morning. With much controversy around the release, I was excited to get stuck in to the streaming service’s first feature length film offering. As I discussed in previous piece, The New Era, this film is perhaps an example, or rather, a hint to the future of cinema releases. The film got a big screen debut on the same day, which seemed to rifle the feathers of many big cinema chains arguing it broke the rules of distribution. This is seemingly the way forward though. Netflix saw the opportunity to bring this picture to a potential audience of nearly 70 million people a day through their platform and ultimately give people a choice. A traditional independent film release wouldn’t even come close to that.
And they certainly came through, all guns blazing with their first foray, as we see Cary Fukunaga (Best known for directing True Detective Season 1) helming the project. Many of the cast were actually assembled through workshops the director held on location, in Ghana, West Africa. Lead actor, Abraham Attah was one of those children. His performance is decidedly brilliant and gives a certain integrity to the piece. This thought is compounded by a win for Attah as Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival. Idris Elba, best known for his roles as Stringer Bell and Luther, plays the compelling, towering and alpha-male like character that is The Commandant.
The narrative of the film is adapted from a novel by Uzodinma Iweala, examining the emotional substratum of what it means to be a child soldier. A subject that has been touched on in previous feature films (Blood Diamond) but perhaps not delved into as deeply as we see here. The setting for the film remains indistinct enough to bring focus to the heart of the tale, the psychological and emotional impact of war, rawly depicted through blunt violence, unfathomable loss and struggle, all intensified by the narration of Agu.
The opening scenes with Agu and his friends, family meals and funny exchanges are a vague memory by the end of the journey. It only takes 15 minutes for everything to change. Gun fire, explosions, point blank executions. A family torn apart. Here, the new journey begins. The jungle setting is a natural feast for the eyes, rich in colours and textures, juxtaposed with the man made dark matte grey of AK 47’s, grenades, rocket launchers and bullet riddled vehicles. The relationship between Elba and Attah on screen has a father, son element. The Commandant rarely shedding his towering demeanour, his lessons are more sickening rather than providing any sort of moral compass for Agu. Agu's eyes are the lens for the viewer. This is very much his story. All of our experiences and sensibilities live and die through him. I don’t want to say much more about the story from there as my words can’t do it justice. Oscar worthy. Certainly. “City of God” came to mind after I punished myself with this film but I think I’ll wait for a day or two to put myself through that.
The picture, in summation is toe-curlingly graphic, honest, and at times, hard to watch but what the cast and director brilliantly execute, is to create an atmosphere to completely immerse yourself in for 136 minutes. Not many films can do that. Definitely check it out if you can, or failing subscribing to Netflix, be a cheapskate and get your buddy’s log in. Totally worth it.
Thanks for reading.