Beasts of No Nation, directed by Cary Joji Fukanaga is a film that at times is difficult to stomach. Delivering an unflinching story, Fukanaga pulls you far into a world that is foreign to many and unsettling for all. However with such a lofty film, a lot of the important elements soon get lost — in the end delivering something that feels a little incomplete.
In Beasts of No Nation we follow a young boy named Agu, played by Abraham Attah, who innocently resides in an African country that is now taken over by war. It isn’t until the war reaches him that Agu’ life changes for the worse. Alone and on the run he soon comes across a rebel group lead by the Commandant, played by Idris Elba, who recruits him and readys him to fight against anyone who opposes them. Agu goes from a naïve, happy child, to a boy who quickly experiences things that no one should ever have to live through.
Unfortunately I’m starting off with my main gripe with Beasts of No Nation, and the reason why I think this film didn’t fully succeed at what it wanted to do. I for almost all of the film felt completely disconnected from it. Beasts of No Nation presents a captivating world, one that is bustling with so much life. What ends up being the problem however, is that once the film drops into the extremely harsh realities of its story — it becomes almost impossible to find anything to understand or relate too.
You are following a young boy who becomes a child soldier in a cruel, immoral place. He is surrounded by people who are committing countless terrible acts, and soon he joins them in it all. It gets to the point where even the characters that you are intrigued by become these unsympathetic monsters. By the end of the film, once everyone has said and done their peace, I felt nothing for anyone. I was drained and defeated.
Here’s what is perhaps the most frustrating part — Beasts of No Nation is filled with some truly great performances. The young actor Abraham Attah gives an award worthy performance. He takes Agu from a cheeky, fun loving kid, to a broken monster that mentally is in his late thirties, early forties. To watch the evolution in his face as he grows more into the killer that the Commandant wants/needs him to be is unsettling and so very watchable. The problem is that we never get to explore his character. Things move so quickly, and all we get are glimpses of who he is becoming. A lot of who Agu is and what he is feeling is delivered through some haunting voiceover by the character. I’m not usually a fan of voiceover in films, I feel it to be distracting, but it is so necessary in the film, and adds it least something to Agu as a character that it is certainly something to cherish when it crops up. That being said there are still large parts of his character, his development that are either overlooked or forgotten. One example would be when his mother disappears early on in the film, and apart from a few references we are never given any resolution to such an important part of his early growth as a person.
Idris Elba’ character suffers from the same problems, but on an even larger scale. As expected Elba delivers the goods when his acting is concerned — the problem is that we are teased with a fascinating individual, and then are given almost no substantial insight into him. What makes him tick, how did he end up in this position, why does he take such a liking to Agu? All of these questions and more are crying out to be explored but none of them are. The film taps the water and lets it ripple, but never dives fully in and sees what lurks beneath. His character is also plagued with the same issue as every other character, but once again on a grander scale. The Commandant goes from someone who interests you to someone who does genuinely awful things (one is so terrible that it nearly breaks the film) and so we’re left with no one to root for, no one to care for. We’re simply left out in the rain begging to be let in (that’s right — two water metaphors in one paragraph).
Now Beasts of No Nation does get some things right. One in particular is the look of the film and the locations that it sets itself in. Fukanaga has a great eye when it comes to setting up his camera, and this is also helped by the fact that he takes the camera to places that look and feel believable. The combination of these two things means that the film is certainly a treat for the visual sense. This is also a film that is alive with colour, even in this war torn country Fukanaga sneaks in beautiful flourishes of colour, utilising them greatly when setting up his scenes.
Beasts of No Nation was surprisingly a disappointment for me. This is a film that boasts a lot of great talent, and it has a greatly interesting story at its core. Somewhere along the road though the film seems to have lost its way — too much was missing for me, and there was never enough to make me fully invested.
Sadly I will not be recommending Beasts of No Nation. A film with so much potential, but in the end did not reach the perhaps unfair expectations I put upon it.
So what did you think of Beasts of No Nation? Please feel free to let me know in the comments down below. If you’d like to keep up with the rest of my reviews then perhaps follow me on Twitter,@GavinsTurtle. All that’s left to say is that I hope you enjoy the rest of your week