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Review: Beasts of No Nation

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Abraham Attah and Idris Elba star in Netflix Originals' BEASTS OF NO NATION

In American film, war is common place. Whether it’s based in Japan, Germany or somewhere like space, there’s always a war going on some place on camera. One of the places where our cameras don’t usually travel is Africa. Of course, there have been movies about this subject there, but it’s hard to remember any that are quite like Beasts of No Nation.

Set in an unnamed country in West Africa, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of Agu (Abraham Attah), who’s living a challenging, but positive life with his family. Although his life isn’t perfect, the happiness he has is the sort of happiness that all kids want. Sadly, for him and kids in places like where he lives, that happiness can be swiftly snatched away when rebels take them in and teach them to fight in order to fight against an army of troops of a corrupt regime’s system.

I’m sure most people who have heard of Beasts of No Nation already know that it is a brutal, honest look at the life of a child soldier. If you want to learn about this kind of thing, this is actually a great place to start. Here, we’re introduced to many of the atrocities that come with the civil wars that have plagued many parts of Africa. Some of it would predictably rattle some viewers, but it’s difficult to see a film predicated on this type of subject matter being done in any other way if your goal is to catch the true essence of such dire scenarios.

I’d imagine that people who know about the book would anticipate there being plenty of merciless and violent circumstances to be seen. However, not only should that be expected, but anything considered positive or joyous shouldn’t. Following a similar path that Sin Nombre went, the director gives us a look a things with very few positives for audiences to grab onto. I guess some could have an issue with this, but once again, it’s kind of how this life would be when living in a country with war banging on the door.

As far as its structure, Beasts of No Nation is an easy to follow picture that shows how the mind can be affected by the harsh episodes that life can present to us and the perception of need that people sometimes have. From that perspective, this can also potentially be used as something to study the human consciousness under such intense conditions. You can’t say that about too many movies out there, but that’s something that should definitely be taken as a compliment.

While he certainly can’t be classified as any kind of hero, Idris Elba’s character doesn’t carry the same extroverted traits of the usual cinematic villain. In order to prepare for the role, Elba studied Adolf Hitler so he could get a better understanding of how more realistic archetypes in his position operate. With him, Elba’s character known as Commandant brings weapons, loyal followers and a usually controlled demeanor to the battlefields he wages war on. This approach fits with the style and tone of the movie perfectly.

The only real issue that I have with this is that it’s too long. That could be remedied by getting rid of some of the early scenes detailing the kid’s existence before he becomes a child soldier. These scenes aren’t bad to watch or anything, but they serve largely to introduce a bunch of characters who won’t be a part of the movie for that long. If this was just about life in that world, I would have been more than willing to watch that as well, but it’s about civil war through the eyes of a child soldier. That makes all of that unnecessary.

With the approach that’s taken, viewers of this film get to witness the transformation of an innocent child into a killer. To most of what’s being shown, there’s a distinct level of sociopathic behaviors and practices being processed and developed. While that’s true of the character, the film has other things on its mind. Beasts of No Nation is here to shed light on a topic that doesn’t usually get a great deal of attention.

Rating: R

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Idris Elba
Abraham Attah
Emmanuel “King Kong” Nii Adom

Film Length: 136 minutes

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Distributor: Netflix Originals

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