In your run-of-the-mill war-torn African nation, a young boy winds up in the clutches of a rebel army. Under the tutelage of the militia’s charismatic leader (Idris Elba), the boy partakes in numerous atrocities and depraved acts of violence. His transition from a child into a so-called “beast” is supposed to be the focal point of the film, but IMO this tale of “innocence lost” is not nearly as impactful as it could have been. The ending for the boy is hopeful, as if his soul is not beyond salvation. I didn’t buy it.
The subject matter is excellent. I always thought Lupe Fiasco’s “Little Weapon” would make a good movie. But “Beasts of No Nation” was too conservative in its approach. We’re talking about child soldiers who snort cocaine and gun powder before storming villages to slaughter innocent people. There needed to be a more fantastical approach that really captures the complete insanity of it all. Think “Apocolypse Now” or even season 1 of “True Detective” — which “Beasts” director Cary Joji Fukunaga directed. Those stories both had a surreal element that was unsettling for the viewer. “Beasts” flirted with that distortion, but came up short. It was disappointing.
I watched the film because of Idris Elba — a man who changes accents like I change t-shirts. In this film he showcased a convincing West African accent that was at times, difficult to understand. It goes without saying that he was the best part of the film. Opposite Elba was “Agu” — played by 15-year old Ghanian actor Abraham Attah. Agu is our narrator and protagonist for all intents and purposes, but I kind of stopped caring about him halfway through the film.
While “Beasts” fell short of my admittedly lofty expectations, it’s still worth the watch if you have Netflix. It’s a high production value war movie that is somewhat original. There are worse ways to spend 2 hours and 17 minutes.
Final thought — this should have been the credits music: