Saturday, 8 June 2019

Movie Review: Beasts Of No Nation (2015)


A heartbreaking war drama, Beasts Of No Nation is the story of a child who becomes a soldier amidst the savage disintegration of his country.

In an unnamed African nation (with Sierra Leone probably serving as the closest inspiration), a civil war is raging with multiple rival militias vying for power and peacekeeping forces caught in the middle. Agu (Abraham Attah) is a resourceful young boy living with his family in a designated buffer zone, but merciless combatants eventually arrive at his village. His mother and younger sister are bundled off to the relative safety of the capital, and Agu is soon separated from his father and older brother.

In the jungle he is captured by a scrappy battalion of rebel fighters under the leadership of the Commandant (Idris Elba). Gradually Agu gets to know the other fighters, including 2-IC, Strika, Preacher, and Tripod. Exposed to the Commandant's rhetoric and abuse, Agu graduates from ammunition carrier to child soldier, participating in battles and fuelled by drugs. The rebels appear to make progress towards victory, but the Commandant has ambitions of his own.

An adaptation of the 2005 novel by Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts Of No Nation also bears a striking resemblance to the true story chronicled in Ishmael Beah's 2007 autobiography A Long Way Gone. The film was one of Netflix's earliest critical hits, and helped launch the debate on appropriate distribution channels for worthwhile films.

The plight of children in war-torn countries is bad enough. Methodically turning boys into murderous drug-dependent soldiers subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse is nothing short of horrifying. Beasts Of No Nation is never less than compelling, but also an undoubtedly challenging film to watch. The scenes of violence often convey barbaric cruelty, and plenty of blood is spilled on screen, stopping just short of excess.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga also wrote the script, and invests the necessary time in the first act to bring Agu to life as a fun-loving and enterprising kid, surrounded by family and friends. Because he is well-rounded into his own person, his subsequent descent into a soldier on the ugly battlefields of a chaotic civil war becomes all the more harrowing.

The other main character is the Commandant, and Idris Elba brings to life a chilling military man totally invested in the world of war, adept at saying just the right thing at the right time to inspire, indoctrinate, gain respect and demand obedience from the men and boys in his battalion. Elba's larger than life performance remarkably ensures he is also human, and Fukunaga crafts a scene of mad battlefield brilliance featuring the Commandant inspiring his troops into a difficult battle to seize a bridge.

In dirty civil wars there are no winners, just various categories of losers, victims and survivors. All are devoured immediately or over time by the insatiable internal and external beasts that thrive on conflict.






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