By Travis Martin
The subject of child soldiers is difficult to address. It is also a difficult topic to talk about in a film. Yet somehow, writer and director Cary Joji Fukunaga was able to make this topic on innocence loss in the Netflix original movie Beasts of No Nation. With psychologically dreamy visuals, visceral violence, and brilliant performances by actor Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation will be hard to forget.
The film begins in an unnamed African country wrought with civil war, where young boy Agu (Attah) is living with his family in a save zone. But when enemy government soldiers are about to invade, Agu’s mother and baby sister are the only ones to make it out, leaving Agu’s father, older brother, grandfather, and himself behind to defend their land. When soldiers do come, only Agu is able to make it out of town and into the bush. It is there that Agu meets child rebels, and is taken under the wing their leader, Commandant (Elba). It is there that Agu’s journey of violence and subjugation begins, as he slowly loses more of his humanity through killing, drugs, and madness.
The performances of Elba and Attah are brilliant. Elba’s Commandant is a towering figure over the child soldiers, both literally and figuratively. It is a slow burn as Commandant’s laws and philosophies start from being noble and just, to deformed and insane. Commandant is a man who believes in his own immortality and self-importance, that he is willing to sacrifice his own men to create his own little world. However, the true star is Abraham Attah, who makes his acting debut in Beasts. Attah makes Agu’s devolution from playful and kindhearted child into the brutal and guilt-ridden warrior even more tragic. I like the scenes between him and other kid soldiers, when it is them just being kids and suddenly changing into complete monsters. I especially like it when there are scenes with Agu and his mute compatriot, Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye), as their friendship adds humanity and connection with Agu.
There are similarities between Beasts and the first season of HBO‘s True Detective, since director Fukunaga was also the director of the entire first season. The nihilistic visuals and harshness of violence are employed within Beasts, which somehow adds both an adult realism to the situation and an imaginative and childish point-of-view to it. We as an audience can only watch in horror as Agu commits crime after crime against humanity. There is one scene that truly shows this, which is when Agu’s group raid a town. The area is stale grey, with pastel red trees surrounding him and everyone else, with blood from gunfire staining the ground. Scenes like these allow Beasts to not only become a character study on innocence, but a philosophical one on destruction of the soul of a human and a country.
Beasts of No Nation is a brilliant film that, allow it lags in some parts, captivates with its intense atmosphere and brutalized characters played fantastically by great actors. Netflix has produce a fantastic original film that will allow them to further develop into other unique territories.
Image by Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beasts_of_No_Nation_%28film%29)