Beasts of No Nation Review – Netflix’s Oscar vehicle?

October 22, 2015 3:41 pm

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

Starring Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe, Richard Pepple and Ama Abebrese.

{ This review contains minor spoilers }

Netflix have had huge success thus far since making its own original programming. Hit shows such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” have gone on to become key components of television’s golden age, whilst both have had success with TV’s most prestigious awards – The Emmy’s.

beasts of no nation idris elba

For this streaming service to venture into making its own films is an extremely bold move. There’s already complaints about the decline in cinema-goers, so a distribution channel that can be accessed from the comfort of your own sofa is surely going to be controversial with certain members of the industry.

Regardless, “Beasts of No Nation” is a triumphant start for Netflix’s original film making.

This hard-hitting film tells the story of a boy Agu (Abraham Attah), a young orphan who is caught up in the raging civil war in Africa. He is found and recruited by a savage commandant (Idris Elba). Young Agu is soon exposed to the horrors and brutality of war, which is set to change him forever.

The beginning of the film is a great piece of metafiction, as Agu and his friends walk around with a television set – which doesn’t actually have a television! This was a brilliant subtle piece of self-awareness, whilst the ridding of the television almost acted as a “we’re leaving television behind” statement from Netflix.

Unfortunately that is the only piece of humor in this extremely brutal film. Things soon go down hill for Agu and after a flurry of violence in his village, he is soon left all by his lonesome in the dangerous terrain.

Throughout these opening scenes (and the entire film for that matter) Abraham Attah is outstanding. This is the Ghanaian actor’s first feature film, but he gives a performance that would make you think otherwise. His reaction to the initial horrors of the war in his village are gut wrenching and he portrays Agu with so much humanity that he is so easy to empathise with.

Fukunaga’s unflinching directing also adds to the horrors Agu is experiencing. Many of you may be familiar with his work through the hit first season of “True Detective” which was also very grim and disturbing. There’s a similar, unsettling tone here.

Despite these early scenes of terror, the worst is still to come thanks to Idris Elba’s warlord. It’s clear when we first meet him that he’s taking advantage of struggling children and recruiting them for his army.

The more time Agu spends with him and his men, the more he becomes hardened and undisturbed by the horrors of war.

Without going into too much spoiler territory, there is a scene involving Agu and a man he is being ordered to kill. It is awfully distressing and extremely intense as he is contemplating whether or not to carry out the deed.

It isn’t just Attah’s performance that carries the film, as Idris Elba provides a career best performance as the ruthless leader. For those of you who have watched “The Wire” you’ll already be aware of the menacing presence Elba has. But in comparison, Stringer Bell looks like a mouse to his character here. He shows absolutely no compassion and is obsessed with violence.

Surprisingly, despite all of the terror in this film, some of the cinematography – also provided by Fukunaga – is extremely beautiful. Some of the forest scenes are so crisp and full of life that you feel as if you are there. Thankfully though, we aren’t, as those scenes quickly turn into war zones. There’s also a scene later on the film that is reminiscent of the famous True Detective tracking shot, where the camera follows Agu through a house. It is once again effective and is quickly becoming a trademark of Fukunaga’s.

Any Oscar success is going to be entirely dependent on the feelings towards Netflix by the Academy. If this wasn’t a Netflix production and instead a film made solely for the big screen, this would be a contender no question. Abraham Attah and Idris Elba give stellar performances that deserve recognition and Fukunaga has worked extremely hard on many aspects of the film, including directing, cinematography and the screenplay.

Overall, Beasts of No Nation is a successful foray into film for Netflix. It is not for the faint of heart and extremely tough to watch at times, but it is nevertheless a brilliant, unforgettable film.

Five Stars out of Five.

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