Beasts of No Nation
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country. Follows the journey of a young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers in a fictional West African country. While Agu fears his commander and many of the men around him, his fledgling childhood has been brutally shattered by the war raging through his country, and he is at first torn between conflicting revulsion and fascination Depicts the mechanics of war and does not shy away from explicit, visceral detail, and paints a complex, difficult picture of Agu as a child soldier.
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★★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
Akin to hundreds of thousands of souls dancing in the wind, and as tranquility distorts into screams of madness, discordant energy swirls within the air like sputtering flames. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation is a cinematic firework show of blazing texture and calamitous horror, and it is one of the best war films you'll ever witness.
Structured as a narrow POV story surrounding the life and hardships of Agu, a young boy caught within the chaos of a civil war, Fukunaga's engrossing tapestry is a rare film that fully baptizes its focus in warm waters of empathy. The audience is Agu and Agu is the audience, and it is this unspoken bond between the screen and our perceptions of reality that drives every moment of Beasts of No Nation into a state of crazed suffering.
It's a narrative that requires extremely difficult and complex moments of reflection, ferocity, and misery, and the central performances tackle this instinctual vision with uncompromising ease. Abraham Attah as Agu is, to put it mildly, a revelation. As his story unfolds, pure magnetism oozes from Agu's observations, and he's simply an indescribable presence.
Idris Elba, playing a vigorous force titled "Commandant", also unleashes an exceptional performance, one that rambles and veers into many different aspects of character. Comprised out of humor, evil, jealousy, and fanatical rage; Elba is the rejuvenating center of a film that pulsates with fiery elegance.
In regards to the technical elements, this is basically Fukunaga running rampant with bloodthirsty grace and crumbling bursts of magic. Jane Eyre and the first season of True Detective, while as impeccably crafted as can be, feel like finely-tuned warm up runs. Fukunaga morphs, with both body and soul in pursuit, into a marathon runner of cinematic ruthlessness.
It's more of a physical ballet than a directorial effort, and that spark translates faultlessly to the images in sync. Beasts of No Nation is the kind of film that is made within the prime of everyone involved, and in that sense, It's an endurance test where the filmmaking vitality bleeds off the screen. In combination with Dan Romer's ethereal and gorgeously off-center score, Fukunaga's film is alive in the most exuberantly monstrous way.
And while most war films dive into structures that work around official missions or journeys of the body, Beasts of No Nation is a scorching experience of slyly linked set-pieces and shocking occurrences of growth. Agu's journey doesn't revolve around an end point or a singular event, but a clustered episode of savage deaths and ideological dead ends. By the film's end, its implications and cumulative trail of events mesh into a vibrant memory bank of the mystical.
★★★★½ review by Hamushy on Letterboxd
African child soldiers, young boys who fight the causes of powerful men is the subject of this feature film from Cary Joji Fukunaga. Since it was released simultaneously on Netflix and in cinemas it has been boycotted by the largest theatre chains, but I am certain that the film will reach its audience anyway. Taking place in an unnamed war-torn African nation it centers around a young boy named, Agu, who is forced to join one of three warring factions after democracy collapses in his country.
I had very high hopes for Beasts of No Nation which was met with mixed reviews during its film festival run and it did not disappoint at all. First of all, it is an emotionally powerful film depicting boys going through horrific events almost unfathomable to outside eyes, without ever losing its aura of realism or even trying to preach to its viewer. Secondly, it is a film that utilizes sophisticated methods to deliver its story. Sometimes that is visual storytelling, sometimes it might be just hinting at certain story elements and respecting the viewer enough to know that we can figure things out for ourselves.
A lot of the film is spent on the relationship between Agu and the leader of his unit simply called the Commandant. Young Agu is played by first time actor, Abraham Attah, who delivers a layered performance in a role that requires both naivety and maturity. Idris Elba shines as the Commandant, a difficult role since we as the viewers are supposed to despise him, but still be able to understand his appeal and why the men and boys who follow him chooses to do so. What Beasts of No Nation gives us by depicting this relationship is an explanation as to how and why these soldiers are able to commit these atrocious acts and how they are indoctrinated by their leader.
I would not want to forget mentioning one of the films biggest strengths. How immaculate it looks, Cary Joji Fukunaga, besides writing, directing and producing also chose to do the cinematography for his film and the result is a triumph. Such a beautifully shot film with a rich color palette and absolutely striking visuals. Filmed in Ghana the films gives us location after location that looks as if they have genuinely been through war. A few people might take issue with the slow pace, the lack of melodrama or that the film depicts its subject matter in an all to gritty way, but I found myself captivated by this gem and with all its craftsmanship along with offering a glance into the relatively unexplored perspective of the child soldier it is a strong addition to the war film genre.
★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
"The only way not to be fighting anymore is to be dying."
One day, I aim to direct a doc called:
The Synth Score Craze of '15.
(PS: I thought this was extraordinary; what a journey)
(PPS: isn't it kind of weird that Dan Romer composed the scores for both Beasts of No Nation and Beasts of the Southern Wild?)
(PPPS: CARY SHOT THIS HIMSELF!?!?!? what a colossal talent)
"Sun, why are you shining on this world?
I am wanting to catch you in my hands,
to squeeze you, until you cannot shine no more.
That way, everything is always dark, and
nobody's ever having to see all the
terrible things that are happening here."
★★★½ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd
I guess the only way Hollywood views Africa is as an entire continent ravaged by nothing but conflict & suffering and in a way, Beasts of No Nation is another exemplification of that. That's not to say that the movie isn't impressive by any means for it is definitely a powerful, provocative & compelling piece of work but this film industry's immoderate fascination with the civil war subject is still worth questioning.
Set in an unnamed West African country, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of a young boy named Agu who, after witnessing his family being gunned down by soldiers, flees from the village but inadvertently runs into the rebel forces and is coerced to join them in their fight. The plot then follows Agu's harrowing journey as a child soldier plus the loss of innocence he undergoes after witnessing the brutality & hardships of war.
Written, shot & directed by Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation takes a very no-holds-barred approach to bring its script to life on the film canvas and is able to depict everything in an uncompromising manner. The camera brilliantly illustrates the transition our character undergoes from living in a bright, hopeful environment to a grim, disturbing one through its changing colour tones as the plot progresses, and it is effectively utilised by Fukunaga.
The plot remains gripping for the most part, thanks to tight editing, but the final act is more like a stretch and its runtime is slightly felt at that point. Coming to the performances, there are two standouts in Abraham Attah & Idris Elba, the former's input being a definite highlight for Attah carries the whole film on his own little shoulders, while Elba plays the leader of the rebels with comfort and the scenes between the two form the core ingredient that keeps the picture glued together.
On an overall scale, Beasts of No Nation is difficult to watch at times, is unflinching with its violent content, and is meant to be an upsetting experience. But where the movie really hits the mark is in handling the complexities of its lead character and apart from that, there isn't really much in the story that separates it from other Hollywood treatments of same subject matter and while these films do bring certain issues to light, their exclusive focus on this one particular issue is also hurting an entire continent's image. Worth a shot!
★★★★½ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
“We are just like wild animals now, with no place to be going. Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody's ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.”
Netflix’s first original film couldn’t have made a larger impact on me. It is one of my favorite films of the year so far. Set in an unnamed West African country, director Cary Fukunaga, takes us through the turmoils of war as we experience it through the eyes of a young child who is forced to become a soldier. The script perfectly captures this young character, named Agu (Abraham Attah), as we witness the transformation he goes through from a sweet and innocent young boy to a fearless and brutal soldier. He is the narrator of the film, and I must say the script written by Fukunaga himself is very gripping. There have been many films tackling the terrible subject matter of child soldiers in Africa, but I don’t think any of them have been handled with the grace that this script does here. It never feels forced or manipulative. We aren’t forced to sympathize with these characters or feel sorry for them because everything evolves very naturally. Fukunaga detaches us from those basic human emotions and simply lets us witness Agu’s horrifying story. The film captures the horrors of war with a lot of detail, but at the same time it contrasts with the beautiful landscape that surrounds the country. It is a film of two contrasting emotions facing off each other, on the one hand there are many horrors, but on the other there is a sense of hope. Despite all the horrifying things going on we are always left with a sense of hope that something good can come out of it all. The cinematography in this film is breathtaking and I simply fell in love with the imagery here.
There are several things that stood out for me in this film. First of all, Beasts of No Nation further solidifies my claim that Fukunaga is one of the most talented young directors working today. I was blown away with his 2009 feature film, Sin Nombre, which centered on a Guatemalan teen who was trying to escape his past with a violent gang and flee to America with his girlfriend. Then he surprised me even more with his direction of the first season of True Detective, which was one of the best shows I’ve seen on TV. Beasts of No Nation isn’t just a showcase for Fukunaga as a director, here he proves to be an excellent script writer and cinematographer as well. The film is breathtaking. The other thing that stood out for me was the lead performance from Abraham Attah, and I believe his name should come up when award season arrives because he was simply amazing in this film. He delivers a completely believable and mesmerizing performance and we sympathize with him despite the transformation he goes through. He does some terrible things in the film, but there is still a sense that he hasn’t entirely lost his soul and that somehow that innocent child wants to come out again. His performance in the final scene is the best I’ve seen this year. Then there is also the incredible performance from Idris Elba as the rebel Commandant. These leaders have always been captured on screen as fearless and terrible men, the Commandant is all those things, but somehow Elba also manages to bring charisma to his character. There is something about him that attracts these men to follow him and basically do anything he asks of them. Elba will surely receive a lot of attention during the award season as well. I’m even hoping for Fukunaga to not be overlooked when the time comes because he has crafted a mesmerizing film that will be hard to shake off.
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