HOLLYWOOD—I’m just going to give this disclaimer early on, “Beasts of No Nation” is not a fun movie to watch. It’s brutal and I mean that with respect to the level of storytelling, the imagery, the violence, the acting and more important how the tale delivers a slice of what is happening in some third-world countries in the world. The movie directed by Cary Fukunaga, the man behind the lens for the first season of the HBO hit “True Detective” digs very deep to unnerve the viewer.
The film revolves around Agu, who is portrayed with such ferociousness by newcomer Abraham Attah, whose simple life is shattered in a West African village when war breaks out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, war is an atrocious little thing that has more ripple effects than anyone can ever expect.
In the midst of chaos, the villagers flee for safety, but Agu discovers from his father that he, his older brother, grandfather and his dad must remain behind; a testament to his father securing the funds to help his wife and two youngest children to escape. While escaping the chaos, Agu stumbles about the rebel ground known as the NDF and he is forced to partake in heinous crimes, at the hands of Commandment portrayed by Idris Elba. There is indeed a reason Elba was nominated for countless awards this season for his work in “Beasts of No Nation.” He puts on the face of evil in a way that one couldn’t imagine in their darkest dreams.
Its visceral, eye-opening and scary as hell to watch the actor delve into such a dark place; he loses himself in the performance and you see Commandant as the wicked being determined to utilize the innocence of a child for his own selfish gain. We’ve seen the actor portray dark characters before, anyone see “No Good Deed?” However, his work here is much more layered, compelling and exhilarating to watch.
What is so disheartening about watching “Beasts of No Nation” is the fact that such violent tyranny is happening all the time in places like Ghana, Rwanda and other countries in Africa. Children are being slaughtered and tortured to participate in massive genocides of villages, learning to fire a gun at an age where they should be kicking a soccer ball and witnessing crimes so horrific it’s hard to even talk about.
There is indeed a disturbing scene between Agu and Commandant that I had to just leave the theater. It’s not easy to watch people. In the midst of all this chaos, we see a young boy grappling with a transformation from loving and kind human being to being shaped into a demonic beast, but there is a glimmer of hope that still exists within him, thanks to his ally Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye). Seeing children literally be brainwashed to participating in such violence is not easy to understand, but in countries where the resources are not as readily available as they are here in America explains how it’s so easy to sway the fragile mind.
As much as I was livid by the fact that Elba did not get an Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actor race, I’m more upset that his co-star Abraham Attah was completely overlooked in most of the Lead Actor races at some of the major awards. Not to take anything away from Jacob Tremblay who was fantastic in “Room,” Attah was just as riveting in “Beasts of No Nation.”
This is a movie where you feel you have been kidnapped from the safety of the movie theater or your couch and placed right in the middle of war. This might be because Fukunaga wears many hats for this production. Not only is he directing the action, but he weaved the narrative, produced the film and got even closer to the filmmaking by taking on the role of cinematographer as well. Directing and cinematography is no easy task, but Cary proves he got every single shot he wanted and it presents that heightened level of chaos that is not always depicted in war torn films.
I will admit I was completely unnerved watching “Beasts of No Nation,” but when I reflect back I realize I just watched a piece of cinema that will indeed stay with me longer than many of the movies that I have seen in the past.