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Film Review: Beasts of No Nation



A Netflix original, Beasts of No Nation is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (whose resume includes other hard-hitting dramas such as Sin Nombre and season one of True Detective) and is based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala.

It follows Agu, a young boy living in a “buffer zone”, which soon becomes the stage for intense fighting between the government and the rebels. After losing his family, he is recruited by the rebel army and taken under the wing of the domineering Commandant.

The story unfolds through the eyes and words of our protagonist, Agu, who is played excellently by newcomer Abraham Attah. His narrative comes to us in a pidgin English that is convincing and easy to follow without seeming contrived.

One of the most touching parts of the movie is the friendship that forms between Agu and Strika, played by Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye. Another young boy in the commandant’s army, Strika does not speak but instead manages to portray his feelings clearly through body language and facial expressions.

One scene shows the two of them playing a game together in a field; a beautiful and concurrently tragic scene, reminding you that they are simply children, and children who are being robbed of their childhood. Amidst the chaos and horror of war, it is the friendship between the pair that brings a strong element of humanity to the story.

Idris Elba is fantastic as the Commandant, somehow combining a seeming tenderness with a vile brutality. What impressed me the most with this character was that he was not flamboyant or ostensibly psychotic, which would have been one way of portraying a sadistic leader recruiting young children to fight a bloody war. Instead, Idris Elba takes a serious and seemingly more reflective approach to the character.

It is through this character that we see most vividly the absurdity of war, with the questionable motives behind its key players; the Commandant’s interest is primarily in power – and how to further it for himself – rather than in overhauling an unfair system to the benefit of the country.
The story is not set in a particular place, or during a particular war; the effect of this is that the audience cannot try to put the story into a box and say, ‘that’s terrible, but it happened there and then, not now’. The urgency and importance of the story come largely from the fact that such a story has been – and is playing out – in many countries now.

There is no doubt that this is an appalling and shocking story, and there are times when it is truly difficult to watch. The movie doesn’t rely on gore to shock or disgust; there are plenty of bloody and nauseating scenes, but these haven’t been given the “Game of Thrones treatment”. Instead, it is the content and the themes which carry this movie.
Beasts of No Nation is a stark and unrelenting portrayal of a terrifying aspect of civil war: the use of child soldiers. It deserves to be seen by everyone and anyone, but brace yourselves, it does not make for easy viewing.

Written by Laura Pollard 



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