Agu is a good boy growing up in an undisclosed African village that is caught in the middle of a Civil War. As the conflict grows, Agu is separated from his family and is soon caught by a militia led by a man known as the Commandant. Agu is taken in and trains to be a child soldier, killing innocent people for a warped cause. Being in the militia, Agu learns about death and loss in the most painful way possible, while being forced to murder and corrupt innocent civilians.
“Beasts of No Nation” is a coming of age horror story. Most coming of age movies have a central character who grows up and learns how to become a man by traveling the world or discovering himself in the process. All of these things happen to Agu, but in a horrific way. Agu learns how to kill, how to experience death and loss as he carries his horrific deeds to his adulthood. Cary Fukunaga who directed Season 1 of “True Detective,” wrote and directed this film with sheer mastery. His script is based off of the horrible things that are done to children in Africa, as they are torn from their families and are trained to be child murderers. Fukunaga knows how to tell compelling stories and “Beasts of No Nation” is just another example of how good Fukunaga is behind the camera.
One of the things that really stands out in this movie are two terrific performances. First being the Commandant played by Idris Elba. Elba is such an amazing actor and I feel like he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Whatever movie he is in, he always shines and does a terrific job with this film. But the real star is Agu, played by first time actor Abraham Attah. This kid was incredible. Not only is his acting top notch, but the way he is able to convey his emotions is something I have not seen in a child actor in a very long time. This film and material is extremely dark. And how this kid was able to pull off these horrific things while keeping his sanity and understanding all the emotions involved was just amazing. It is one of the greatest performances that I have seen this year and it’s a shame because I don’t think he will be recognized for his portrayal because this is a Netflix film, which leads me to another point.
This movie is the first film made by Netflix. They have created all of their own original shows with lots of success but this is their first foray into film and they have done a bang up job. This film looks and feels like a movie that you would pay to see in a theater. The production value shows and it looks like a big Hollywood studio film. This is a huge step in the entertainment world and I think that if Netflix keeps doing this, big studios are going to be in trouble. The film was made for 7 million but Netflix acquired it for 12 and I think that if this is successful for Netflix, the movie shaping landscape has a chance to radically change. I also think this might pave the way for future indie filmmakers in getting their projects out to the public.
Now the only real complaint that I had with the film was the running time. This was nearly a three hour movie which I thought was too long. There were many scenes in the movie that felt extraneous or out of place and I think someone really needed to polish the editing, tighten up scenes and cut ones that didn’t really fit. The movie felt like a raw cut that hadn’t been closely trimmed. So I really think that this movie could have been two hours rather than two and a half. The movie dragged on for many scenes and some of them felt unnecessary. But all in all, I really enjoyed this film and I applaud Netflix for taking this bold step.
“Beasts of No Nation” is a sad and tragic coming of age story about the horrors of child soldiers in Africa. The cinematography and artful direction by Cary Fukunaga is some of the best that you will see this year. This is a compelling and unforgiving story filled with extreme violence and heartbreak about the realities of war and genocide in Northern Africa that are still going on today. Fukunaga is our guide, giving us a virtual tour through this blood-filled land, where men become beasts fighting for an unknown cause or nation. If you are a Netflix subscriber, please watch this movie. You will be thankful for what you are blessed with and this movie will open your mind and hearts to those that are not as fortunate.