Monday, September 12, 2016

Movie Review - Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Starring Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, and Emmanuel "King Kong" Nii Adom Quaye
Directed by Cory Joji Fukunaga
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

"I saw terrible things...and I did terrible things...and if I tell you about these things, you'll think I'm some sort of beast, a devil.  But I also had a mother once, and a father, and a brother and sister...and they loved me."

So says young Agu (Abraham Attah) in a gut-wrenching moment in Beasts of No Nation, a terrifying film about the horrors of a territorial war in an unnamed country in Africa.  Agu and his family were living in in a buffer zone in the war, supposedly free of involvement from the fighting factions, but when the buffer zone is invaded, Agu goes on the run after his father and brother are killed.  In the jungle, Agu is captured by a group involved with the NDF - a rising rebel army.  The head of this faction of the NDF is the Commandant (Idris Elba) who decides instead of killing Agu to bring him in to his army which is largely formed of young pre-teen children.  Although allowed to live, Agu's life takes a terrible turn as he's forced to commit heinous acts that he never thought he'd be capable of doing.

Beasts of No Nation is not an easy sit.  Director Cory Joji Fukunaga does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere that is oppressing and harrowing.  Agu's progression from a boy with a bright disposition to one whose weathered face shows no concern when asked to kill someone is brilliantly captured in both story (also written by Fukunaga) and acting by first timer Abraham Attah.  Attah is surprisingly captivating considering this is his first role ever and he more than carries the emotional heft of the film on his shoulders.

While shot nicely and acted well, Beasts of No Nation begins to fall apart a bit near its conclusion.  Building so much tension and story around Agu, the film shifts its attention in the final act towards the Commandant and despite a fantastic no-nonsense and strong performance from Idris Elba, the film isn't about him.  While the flick eventually moves back to Agu (and gives us a fantastic scene to end things on), this misguided emphasis on the Commandant knocks the film down a notch.  However, Beasts of No Nation is still a powerful film that just loses its way a little bit.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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