Already excited to see this film, watching season 4 of Luther was all I need to take the plunge and watch the film. ”Beasts of No Nation”, available only on Netflix, is directed by Cary Fukunaga (True Detective Season 1) and stars Abraham Attah and Idris Elba (aka LUTHER). Here is the trailer:
This film sees Agu (Abraham Attah) alone and separated from his family due to an escalating civil war in Ghana and his transformation once he is taken in by a rebel NDF Commandant (Idris Elba).
Now, I knew that , given the subject matter, this was not going to be a joyful sailing across a rainbow on a cloud of happiness kind of movie. BUT I didn’t expect to leave the family, exhausted from tension. Maybe not the perfect Christmas Eve movie choice…apologies one and all!
So where to start?
Well, the acting is brilliant. Elba is fully committed and convincing as a Commandant of these child soldiers; fatherly, strong and inspiring yet abusive, cruel and power-hungry. He commands the attention of each and every scene. Every movement and word is meticulous, carefully chosen and designed to further his purpose. A purpose he preaches as their purpose (huge nod to the tremendous screen-writers here).
Abraham Attah, an (relative) unknown Ghanian actor, is the real stand out of this film. An intense and heart-breaking portrayal of a child whose youth is stolen from him and forced into a broken and desolate adulthood. His performance was subtle and mature, capturing a level of pain and confusion, something I haven’t seen in a child-actor in a long time.
This is a story about the loss of innocence. His journey from happy, joyful child to ruthless, if conflicted soldier, to a scared being, neither boy nor man and without a certain future. Without doubt this film thrives on it’s lead performances and screen play and is bolstered by its realism and its willingness to tackle difficult and traumatizing subjects; sexual abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, war, violence, death. The brilliance of this film, however, is its’ unpredictability. Its warm and carefree opening, the scattered moments of humour and tenderness serve to make the violence and horror even more heart wrenching.
The best example of this comes about 1/2 way through, in the thick of the rebel campaign. Agu and his friend, Strika (another child soldier) are playing games in a field only to hear gun shots for the scene to turn to madness.
This film is so harrowing because the horror is never certain; on the drop of the hat, on the back of political betrayal, the tension before the battle or in its’ aftermath. Although the violence is cold, brutal and realistic the level of violence doesn’t create the tension. The tension lies in each individual scenario, who is perpetrator and who is victim and the uncertain wait for action. In the end the violence becomes a release of tension, a troubling release for the viewer at that.
Beyond these appalling situations there is the beautiful, picturesque scenery which frames the tragedy. Combined with a score that combines African music with moments of an epic, swirling score gives the film a wonderful sense of scope. These moments of beauty do make the film more palatable, although the film is never easy to watch, see below.
Throughout the film, Agu’s voice-over highlights his transition but also brings a voice and window into the consequences of these actions. Maybe comparing their actions to those of beasts and wild animals helps to cope with the horrors they’ve done and seen.
Following ”True Detective” Season 1 and its acclaim, the addition of ”Beast Of No Nation” to Fukunaga’s film canon show that he is a force to be reckoned with. The cinematography is as beautiful as it is shocking; a drug fuelled battle scene with a red-wash colour palette and a march through mud filled trenches are my personal highlights (see below). Now while the ending was a little lacklustre, and Elba’s final scene left me wanting, this ending felt earned and deserved; with an uncertain future but scope for the positive and the negative. This ambiguity feels natural.
The trench scene:
VERDICT: DEFINITELY WATCH…BUT NOT ON XMAS DAY!
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!