Written by Scott Clifford
Malaria, blood diamonds, western imperialism, militias, and child soldiers are all terrible facts of life for many areas in Africa that we have become desensitized too. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Cary Fukunaga’s latest film, called Beasts of No Nation, bombed at the box office. Luckily for us, we can log on to our Netflix accounts and stream this film because it may be the best thing that I’ve seen so far this year.
Beasts of No Nation follows a young boy named Agu who lives in a village of a fictional African country with his parents and older brother. His journey starts off as a coming of age story as Agu and his friends try to make some money by selling an imaginary television to government soldiers and chopping down tree branches in the middle of the road so drivers can pay them to move the branch out of the way. It’s a wonderfully executed beginning that will grip you and possibly make you emotional because you know that things are going to get worse very quickly when a meeting at the local church ends in having all of the men stay to protect the village from two different armies that are fighting for control of their country. Needless to say, these men without guns can’t protect much of anything and are accused of being spies by government forces. Everyone except for Agu is executed mainly because Agu was able to get away into the forest surrounding his village.
This is where Agu runs into The Commandant (Idris Elba) and his forces of child soldiers. They give Agu a simple Hobbes choice to join their militia or die. People may start to question the possibility of free will as we see Agu go on ritual after ritual in order to become a child soldier who only misses his mother as more of a metaphor than any real construct anymore. Fukunaga’s mastery of his craft almost tricks us into rooting for Agu as he splices an engineer’s head open with a machete and guns down people while high on “brown-brown”, a potent mixture of heroin and gun powder. After all, where else does he have to go? You can’t upset The Commandant or it’s over, even if that means placating to his tendencies for pedophilia.
That’s right, Idris Elba plays a character that is a mass murderer, a child abductor, and a pedophile with such charisma and grace that you can see his humanity. Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t personally like the character. In fact, I despise him but I can understand why someone would think and act the way that he does in a world where there is no way out and everything that you do basically leads you into darker places of your psyche. Basically, he’s this film generations’ Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The same thing goes for Agu during a powerful scene near the end of the film where he explains to a woman trying to help him that telling her about the things that he’s had to do to survive will just make everyone sad without changing anything so he will just play with other kids as if nothing ever happened instead. Beasts of No Nation shows us that the world can be a scary place where there is no right answer no matter what you do but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a better future.
If there is any real critique that I can give to this review, it’s that the actual plot is too vague for it’s own good. I understand that everything is from the perspective of a child who doesn’t know what is happening around him but doesn’t mean that we can’t gain some more insight into certain events of the story. Why is the Commandant so upset when he isn’t given the general position that he was offered over the radio? Why does it matter that United Nations trucks are giving food to certain factions over others? What is the difference between those factions in the first place? Many may say that that’s the point that everything is crazy and nothing matters but I feel that it’s a bit of a cop out. That being said, I still love this film.
Beasts of No Nation Rating: 8.5 out of 10