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Beasts of No Nation review: a political classic in the making

October 7, 2015

FestivalsFilm + EntertainmentReview | by Dominic Preston


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Netflix has grown remarkably from its original online streaming days, producing its own shows and now movies. While some may show disdain for what is essentially a TV network embarking in film production, Beasts of No Nation is a great first movie for the company’s new distribution efforts. Available simultaneously online and in theatres, this is a cinematic release in its own right and worth watching in theatres.

Beasts of No Nation is a grim, realistic journey through war told by a child soldier. Directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre and most notably True Detective’s first series), he puts his keen eye and previous experience with the macabre to good use. Set in a nameless West African nation set upon by war, we’re introduced to Agu, played perfectly by Abraham Attah, a superb child actor surrounded by a great cast.

When we first meet him, Agu is a precocious prankster whose main worry is paying attention in class. The war has brought many refugees into his village, and while his father is more than happy to offer his land to various UN tents it is obvious things are only getting worse.

After a warning is issued telling everyone to evacuate the village, Agu and his family attempt to leave but the ensuing chaos inevitably separates them and he must witness various atrocities until he can escape. Alone and hungry he meets the leader of the local rebels, played by Idris Elba. Elba stands tall with a confident swagger and warmth that leaves you at ease, quickly bringing Agu to his side as his latest recruit.

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“Do you want to take revenge on the men who did this?”

“YES SIR!”

This culminates in his first kill, it is violent, brutal and astonishingly realistic; Fukunaga does not do the disservice of turning the camera away from what is reality for some. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 child soldiers exist worldwide, of which 30% are girls. A film should entertain, but if it informs and provides a new point-of-view, as Beasts of No Nation certainly does, then it has risen above what many expect from the cinema.

The film is a downward spiral for Agu, who can only find solace in his fellow soldiers growing drug habit. Agu’s experience of war leaves him cold and angry, but also desperate for family life – at one point he grabs on to a woman crying that he has found his mother only to be disappointed. A bittersweet epilogue offers a semblance of hope, but is it too late? Worth watching whether on the big screen or in bed, this is a political classic in the making.

Words by Sunny Ramgolam

Beasts of No Nation screens as part of the BFI London Film Festival on the 8th and 9th October.