Beasts of No Nation

Directed by:  Cary Joji Fukunaga

Starring: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, and Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye

Netflix continues to innovate and produce quality entertainment in the streaming media realm with its release of Beasts of No Nation.  Netflix is currently streaming a gripping African war drama at a time when #Oscarssowhite is trending and wreaking havoc on the Academy Awards.  Many critics lament that Idris Elba was overlooked in the Oscar’s best supporting actor category for his performance in the film.  Having seen many of the other nominated performances, I would tend to agree.  Beasts of No Nation is a gut-wrenching glimpse into the creation of child soldiers and the manipulative forces that can turn innocents into weapons.  Beasts of No Nation is timely, compelling and difficult to watch.

Based on a 2005 novel by Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation tells the tale of young Agu (Abraham Attah). Agu is a boy growing up in a small village in a war torn West African country.  As the war touches his village, his regular routine is interrupted.  Instead of attending school, Agu and his friends now roam the village and countryside getting into mischief.  Even though his village is caught between the rebels and the government, Agu is still innocently living with his family.  He teases his elderly grandfather,  jokes with his older brother about a neighborhood girl, and finds different adventures with his friends.

Agu’s life changes dramatically when his country’s government falls and his village is overrun.  His mother and younger sisters are able to escape the village.  However, Agu, his older brother, his father and elderly grandfather remain behind to try to defend their village from the rebels.  Unfortunately, Agu’s family members are brutally murdered by militia and only Agu is able to narrowly escape death by fleeing into the countryside.  

During his escape, Agu stumbles upon a rebel group, the NDF, led by the Commandant (Idris Elba).  The Commandant has assembled an impressive troop of child and teenage soldiers, some as young as nine or ten years old.  Initially, the rebels intend to kill Agu. But the Commandant recognizes that there is strength in numbers, and he allows Agu to return to the rebel camp and undergo rigorous training.  Unbeknownst to Agu, his tragic life will soon become worse as he is swept up under the dangerous influence of the Commandant.

The concept of The Hunger Games trilogy seems far-fetched — a dystopian society that forces teenagers to fight to the death as entertainment.  However, Suzanne Collins, the trilogy’s author, drew inspiration from real life wars and the young soldiers fighting all across the world at their government’s direction.   Another novel, Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala, deals with similar themes.  However, Iweala does not delve into science fiction, but writes about events that are happening in Africa presently.  Beasts of No Nation tackles an important subject matter that makes one reflect on humanity, brutality, and our own failure in protecting our children.

Cary Joji Fukunaga wrote and directed the film, and he takes us deep into the underbelly of war.  Best known for his work as a director on the first season of HBO’s series True Detective, Fukunaga branches out with Beasts of No Nation.  He skillfully chronicles a young boy’s journey in this brutal coming of age tale.  The film’s narrative is compelling, and although the subject matter is dark, there are elements of light infused at different parts of the film.  

The cast delivers stellar performances in Beasts of No Nation.  Idris Elba continues to impress with his ability to affect any accent.  He depicts a shrewd African military commander who can train, organize, and effectively lead a band of young boys.  His character is loathsome, cunning and ruthless, and he plays the part well.  Although Elba delivers a strong performance, the star of the film is the lead character Abraham Attah. Attah skillfully takes us through his character’s journey.  At the start of the film, Attah is funny, light-hearted and a joy to watch.  As his family is ripped apart and Attah becomes a child soldier, he struggles to maintain his humanity and his soul.  Attah adeptly portrays a child grappling with the violence, death and misery around him.  Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye who plays another child soldier, Strika, is also noteworthy.

Beasts of No Nation
earns a sober rating.  Although you may want a drink to make it through the film, you need to be alert to fully appreciate Beasts of No Nation.