If Netflix's first film production, the Idris Elba-starring drama Beasts of No Nation, is anything to go by, the increasingly popular phrase 'Netflix and chill' will soon become a thing of the past. This beautiful but harrowing look at African soldiers is anything but the kind of film you flick on to relax with on a Friday night.
Caught between the government troops who maintain the peace in his little village in an unnamed African country and the rebels outside, imaginative Agu (Abraham Attah) lives a happy life with his family, coming up with inventive ideas to make some money. When the threat of nearby rebel activity causes the men of the village to send the women and children away and to relative safety, Agu is left behind with his father and oldest brother. But when government forces start slaying those they suspect of being rebels, Agu soon finds himself alone and forced to fend for himself.
Just as it seems things couldn't get any worse, Agu is picked up by a rebel Commandant (Idris Elba) and his group of young fighters. Agu is easily manipulated into becoming a soldier and seeking revenge on those who killed his family, but will he ever escape and find what is left of his family?
The fact that child soldiers even exist is a truly depressing stain on humanity. To see how a young, vulnerable boy can be so easily turned into something so vicious is not an easy watch. With only the presence of Idris Elba to draw in any crowds (and guarantee a decent budget), Beasts of No Nation is a frighteningly bleak dissection of how a child soldier is created.
Cary Fukunaga of True Detective fame pulls together a cracking cast of unknowns and never lets the charismatic Elba overshadow them or dominate the drama. His Commandant is a truly terrible creation, but despite his many horrendous acts he isn't a bog standard bit of cardboard villainy. Far from it. This is a fully rounded character, father and tormenter to his lost souls... a man who is capable of exploiting the weakest, but is exploited and ultimately a casualty of war himself.
But even with Elba delivering an incredibly powerful performance, both inspiring to his troops and sickeningly abusive, this is newcomer Abraham Attah and Fukunaga's film. As Agu, Attah is a revelation. From bright-eyed, creative and carefree child to stone-cold killer who may lose all hope of compassion, so much of the performance comes through his haunting eyes and increasingly tragic face.
Pulling double duty as director and cinematographer, Fukunaga captures the beauty of the country as the backdrop to some unflinching brutality. It's bloody and its nasty, but with Dan Romer’s brilliant score, silhouettes caught in the sunlight and some stylistic flourishes (watch out for the steadicam shot following Agu as he raids a house) dotted throughout, Beasts of No Nation will reward repeat watches... if you can stomach it.
Ultimately it’s not without hope either. While Beasts of No Nation is far from easy viewing, it is powerful, urgent and heartbreaking filmmaking and a stark reminder of how boys become beasts in a war without end.
BEASTS OF NO NATION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CARY FUKUNAGA / STARRING: IDRIS ELBA, ABRAHAM ATTAH, AMA K. ABEBRESE, OPEYEMI FAGBOHUNGBE / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 9TH (SELECT CINEMAS), OCTOBER 16TH (NETFLIX)
Expecting Rating: 8 out of 10