Monday, December 28, 2015

Movie with Abe: Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Released October 16, 2015

Netflix has revolutionized the TV landscape with a number of hit shows designed for binge-watching and earning many accolades in the process. “Beasts of No Nation,” which was released simultaneously in theaters and on Netflix back in October, marks the first non-documentary film originally produced by Netflix. It may also make history by managing to score an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, which would start to redefine what movies can look like. Regardless of whether it ends up being honored by Oscar voters, this film is a strong and immensely watchable look at the horrors of life in a purposely anonymous third-world country at war.

The film starts with playful, hand-drawn titles and introduces its eager young narrator, Agu (Abraham Attah). Agu and his friends do what they can to keep life interesting while war devastates their unnamed African country, including blocking the road with tree branches and charging passing drivers to remove it, and entirely harmless fun like selling an “imagination TV,” an empty television set with live performances from Agu’s friends as entertainment. Agu describes his life, touching on his relationship with his older brother and the father who also serves as his teacher. All that tranquility is cut short when government forces mistake Agu, his family, and members of his village for rebels, and Agu escapes only to be recruited by a rebel unit led by the Commandant (Idris Elba) and consisting almost entirely of child soldiers.

Watching Agu’s transformation from happy-go-lucky kid making the most of his life to fully engaged child soldier is an intense and frightening experience. Filmed in Ghana, the actual setting of this story is inconsequential to the idea it conveys. Watching children excitedly execute random people they meet who might be as innocent as Agu’s family was and cheer when they see violence on the horizon is disturbing, and as told in this film with Agu at its center, magnetically interesting.

Elba, who was been working in British and American cinema and television for a number of years, is attracting a lot of awards attention for his part as the uncompromising commander who indoctrinates and leads the young boys from their former lives into something entirely unrecognizable. The real breakthrough comes from Attah, a native of Ghana who delivers a revelatory performance as Agu, tackling subjects way beyond his age and maturity that capture the impossible existence of child soldiers. Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls triple duty as director, writer, and cinematographer to tell this important and powerful story, one that is beyond unsettling but also immensely well-crafted.


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