By Ingrid Dos Santos Goncalves
Like a shotgun butt to the head, “Beasts of No Nation” left me reeling. Shot in Ghana but set in Anyplace, West-Africa, director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s 2015 war drama, visually terrorizing tale of a child soldier named Agu (Abraham Attah) and his children companions on an adult rampage never lets you up for air.
Based on the 2005 novel by Nigerian-American, Harvard-educated author, Uzodinma Iweala, the story follows the journey of a skinny preadolescent boy, Agu (Abraham Attah), as a child soldier who plummets to unspeakable depths as a bloody guerrilla war plunders through his nameless West African homeland.
Agu’s mother and his two youngest siblings leave for the capital at the beginning of the movie, making the young boy desolate after his father, brother and grandfather are shot dead by their country’s army. Young Agu is soon found by a battalion of the rebel Native Defense Force, which first threatens to kill him, but later browbeats him into joining their battalion as a child soldier. Soon after being the Commandants subject to the process of recruitment Agu is compelled to kill an unarmed man. This is the first of several vicious acts Agu is forced to perform through the course of the movie.
The vagueness of the setting offers what is to me the films only minimal short-coming. It is highly curious and outlandish to me how Agu’s war-ravaged homeland is remained unnamed throughout the entirety of the movie. But the politics of the nation central in the storyline however, indicates that we’re being told a story set in Sierra Leone. Director Fukunaga reimburses the viewer though, giving a complex view into the psychology of power. When the demonic father figure that is the Commandant finds him, Agu has been left alone to fend for himself and has been stripped of any and every feeling og security he might have had in life.
Agu, describes himself as “a good boy from a good family,” and he seems to be exactly this at the beginning of the film. But the most grievous thing about “Beasts of No Nation” is that both Agu and the Commandant (Idris Elba) are right. The symbolic line between innocence and evil is slighter than the blade of a machete.
Leaving deep impressions in me as viewer, “Beasts of No Nation” is needless to say no easy movie to watch. Written and directed by Fukunaga — who also directed a recent “Jane Eyre” and the first season of HBO’s “True Detective”— “Beasts of No Nation” shows apparent mindfulness from its director in involvement of horror. The writer and director’s style is clear in the movie balancing great visual impact with sensational distortion. Agu is desensitized by the terror and steeled by the inhumanity he has been put through and that has been carried out.
After my viewing of “Beasts of No Nation” I realized that it brought me a palpable sense of fear for the barbarity that occurs in many of the worlds countries. But if it’s an obstacle for you watching explicit violence and blood splutter, you may find yourself bracing yourself and covering your eyes more often than not.
“Beasts of No Nation”, is the first fictional feature distributed by streaming giant Netflix, making it something of a breakthrough in the continuously downfall of distinction between works of art made for theaters and those meant for online accessed streaming.
Agu befriends another child soldier in the rebel group, like himself the other boy, called Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye) has been left alone in the world and is brought under the wing of the Commandant. Young Strika never says one word throughout the film, and together Agu and Strike stand for the majority of the humor that is provided in the movie.
The movie is a solid piece of film art. Made with an unrelenting vérité approach, “Beasts of No Nation” feels like a punishing and disorienting hallucination.
“Beasts of No Nation” is unrated.