Beasts of No Nation is a visceral, haunting cinematic experience that touches on the themes of cycles of violence and man’s competitive nature, while supplying a compelling narrative with a real life commentary. It’s a difficult task to manage, but luckily fantastic director Cary Fukunagua handles the material with great care and precision, never going to far with the message whilst not holding back the brutality. It’s a somber, yet important film, and one of the best that 2015 has to offer.
Set in an unnamed African nation, Beasts of No Nation follows Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy growing up in an isolated community with his family. When his village is assaulted and Agu is left alone in a violent and terrifying new environment, he’s rescued and mentored by the Commandant (Idris Elba), a powerful warlord who’s determined to raise an army that will rule triumphant over the land. As Agu is drawn into this world of violence, he discovers the true evil that exists within the world, and loses his innocence forever in taking part of it.
Fukunagua pulls no punches in the storytelling, and doesn’t hold back from showing the heart of the conflict. The action sequences are handled with intense realism, and the long panning shots make the film almost documentary like. It’s this beauty to the film’s camerawork, and it’s contrast with the brutality, that makes it so successful. However, the themes of evil and violence, which are presented threw out, don’t become preachy, and the film’s closing scenes are genuinely moving, and some of the best filmmaking of the year.
Set within the harsh world is young Abraham Attah, who perhaps gives one of the best child performances ever. Attah is convincing as a young boy who slowly turns into a monster, yet his emotion is always felt and he never loses sight of the youth of the character, and his humanity within the film’s most crushingly somber notes. Alongside him is an unrecognizable Idris Elba, who’s utterly terrifying as the Commandant, is compelling as a character, and also has a surprising amount of depth added to his character as the film progresses, making him worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Beasts of No Nation is an important film, but it maintains the narrative of its events without giving into clichés. Even familiar stories can be well done, and Fukanagua proves that something so somber can be inspiring, and a story this dark can be enthralling. Grade: -A