“We are just like wild animals now, with no place to be going. Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody's ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.”
Netflix’s first original film couldn’t have made a larger impact on me. It is one of my favorite films of the year so far. Set in an unnamed West African country, director Cary Fukunaga, takes us through the turmoils of war as we experience it through the eyes of a young child who is forced to become a soldier. The script perfectly captures this young character, named Agu (Abraham Attah), as we witness the transformation he goes through from a sweet and innocent young boy to a fearless and brutal soldier. He is the narrator of the film, and I must say the script written by Fukunaga himself is very gripping. There have been many films tackling the terrible subject matter of child soldiers in Africa, but I don’t think any of them have been handled with the grace that this script does here. It never feels forced or manipulative. We aren’t forced to sympathize with these characters or feel sorry for them because everything evolves very naturally. Fukunaga detaches us from those basic human emotions and simply lets us witness Agu’s horrifying story. The film captures the horrors of war with a lot of detail, but at the same time it contrasts with the beautiful landscape that surrounds the country. It is a film of two contrasting emotions facing off each other, on the one hand there are many horrors, but on the other there is a sense of hope. Despite all the horrifying things going on we are always left with a sense of hope that something good can come out of it all. The cinematography in this film is breathtaking and I simply fell in love with the imagery here.
There are several things that stood out for me in this film. First of all, Beasts of No Nation further solidifies my claim that Fukunaga is one of the most talented young directors working today. I was blown away with his 2009 feature film, Sin Nombre, which centered on a Guatemalan teen who was trying to escape his past with a violent gang and flee to America with his girlfriend. Then he surprised me even more with his direction of the first season of True Detective, which was one of the best shows I’ve seen on TV. Beasts of No Nation isn’t just a showcase for Fukunaga as a director, here he proves to be an excellent script writer and cinematographer as well. The film is breathtaking. The other thing that stood out for me was the lead performance from Abraham Attah, and I believe his name should come up when award season arrives because he was simply amazing in this film. He delivers a completely believable and mesmerizing performance and we sympathize with him despite the transformation he goes through. He does some terrible things in the film, but there is still a sense that he hasn’t entirely lost his soul and that somehow that innocent child wants to come out again. His performance in the final scene is the best I’ve seen this year. Then there is also the incredible performance from Idris Elba as the rebel Commandant. These leaders have always been captured on screen as fearless and terrible men, the Commandant is all those things, but somehow Elba also manages to bring charisma to his character. There is something about him that attracts these men to follow him and basically do anything he asks of them. Elba will surely receive a lot of attention during the award season as well. I’m even hoping for Fukunaga to not be overlooked when the time comes because he has crafted a mesmerizing film that will be hard to shake off.