By Sharon Rwakatungu
Beasts of No Nation is a 2015 war drama film written and directed by Cary Fukunaga popularly known for his work directing the 2014 crime series True Detective. The film, based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala follows the story of a young boy who is forced to become a child soldier. It was shot in Ghana and stars Abraham Attah as Agu, famous British actor Idris Elba as Commandant, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye as Strika and many others.
It’s important to note that this story is set in a fictional West African country, during a fictional war — the only real nation identified is Nigeria which provides the UN peace keepers we occasionally see. So this means there is no nitpicking of actual events, this place is not quite Sierra Leone, not quite Ivory coast, not quite Uganda but does borrow elements from those conflicts to paint an imaginary rebel bush war.
Beast of no nation first starts on a lighthearted note, showing us Agu’s playful and bratty character, his family, friends and how their hometown has changed during a time of war. From there, this young boy begins to lose everyone and everything he cares about one by one in a sequence of devastating losses. We are brought into the terrifying world of Agu, who is vulnerable and helpless in his situation as a child soldier. Here we meet Commandant (Idris Elba), who is a total asshole, he’s the man in power, who others are powerless against. Commandant takes a particular interest in Agu and we watch him lose his innocence as he is exposed to and participates in the war.
The entire movie is good, there’s gory violence which shows just how dark Agu’s circumstances are, the first life he takes is purely vicious. He forms a bond with my favorite character, child soldier “Strika”, a young boy like him, who I suppose is a mute because he did not say one word throughout the entire film but conveyed so much.
One of the noticeable things about this movie is its colors and cinematography, it takes place in a bush so there are plenty of beautiful shots composed of vibrant colours. The acting was also rather good. I liked Elba’s performance and had no issues with his accent, the performances of Agu and Strika were impressive, I was shocked to find out Abraham Attah who plays lead the character Agu did not have any prior acting experience.
However, like I said earlier, Beast of no nation is just good, it’s not great. I had issues with the way they handled Agu’s loss of innocence which is the main subject of the film. Before the war in his hometown, Agu is characterized as stubborn, but then once he joins the war, little more is done with his character. We simply see him gradually commit disturbing acts, but we only see a kid following orders and don’t get a detailed look into his emotional state. He is also favored by the Commandant for no apparent reason. The only look into his mind we get is delivered through narration describing obvious moral dilemmas.
Ultimately, Beast of no nation is a powerful movie, I hope to see Idris Elbatake on more roles like this, Abraham Attah get more attention and Cary Fukunaga do better than this.
8/10 would recommend!