“Beasts of No Nation” shows the life of a child solider

by Diego Olivares

“Beasts of No Nation” is a disturbing and haunting portrait into the life a child soldier in a war-torn environment.

It’s based on a novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala. Set in an unnamed West African nation, the film focuses on a young child named Agu, played by Abraham Attah.  

Agu loses his family while in the middle of a war zone between government soldiers and rebel fighters. After escaping this tragedy, Agu only finds himself entering the heart of darkness.

He’s soon captured by a militia comprised mostly of children soldiers. They are lead by a menacing leader known only as The Commandant, played by Idris Elba.

The Commandant decides to take Agu under his wing by training him as a child soldier. What follows is a dark and vicious pathway into the violent side of human nature.

The film was written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, best known for his work on “True Detective.” Through his direction, Fukunaga presents a harshly honest look into dehumanization through combat.

This film is powerfully made, but is unnerving to watch. An extreme sense of realism covers much of the picture’s content.

Scenes of violence and warfare are as stark as possible. None of them are stylized as many Hollywood war pictures tend to be.  

It’s clear that Fukunaga doesn’t flinch when it comes to presenting such brutal concepts. What makes the film truly disturbing is that it’s told from the perspective of a young child.

The first twenty minutes of the picture details Agu’s early life before joining the militia. While the other child soldiers are given no backstory, one can sense that they, too, come from tragic backgrounds.

As a result, the film doesn’t feel much in the vein of a Hollywood-produced war film. Instead it comes off more in art-house vein of war cinema due to its uncompromising treatment.

The narrative of the film invokes many classic novels of the past. The theme of children being driven to violence relates heavily to the novel, “Lord of the Flies.”

The concept of the descent into human evil within a jungle setting is another theme of the film. This brings to mind the classic novel, “Heart of Darkness.”  

In addition to writing and directing, Fukunaga also serves as the film’s cinematographer. The filming combines both lush beauty and stark naturalism that fits the film’s content perfectly.

Idris Elba gives a haunting performance as The Commandant. He is able to incorporate a father-like nature with a villainous brutality in his portrayal.

His character serves as a twisted father figure to this group of truly lost children.

Newcomer Abraham Attah gives a masterful performance as Agu. He’s able to project sympathy through his character even when being forced to execute horrific actions.

Attah’s performance is impressive, given that this is his first film. He’s a young actor with a strong future ahead of him.

The film was distributed by Netflix, both in theaters and via online streaming. This is the company’s first film released in theaters.

“Beasts of No Nation” is a stunning, powerful film that, given its dark subject matter, should be viewed by audience.

Movies like this aren’t often made in today’s film industry.

“Beasts of No Nation” is unrated.

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