Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Writer & Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba.

Some movies are really hard to watch. I have a number of friends who have told me that there are certain types of films they simply cannot watch because of the difficult and overwhelming content. Sometimes it’s due to violence against women, sometimes it’s children, others don’t like watching movies that depict war. I understand their reasonings and it makes sense to me that something that can be triggering or uncomfortable would be something people would want to avoid. As much as I understand it, I don’t completely agree. I think that some stories, while difficult to hear and learn about, should be watched and acknowledged. We, as humans, are capable of amazing things, but also of abominable acts, and the only way to learn from our mistakes, fix ourselves, and change for the better is to be aware of what we have done or what has happened to others. If every life matters then the least we can do is pay attention to voices that otherwise would be ignored and forgotten.

Beasts of No Nation is not an easy movie to watch, and at times it is harrowing. The story focuses on the topic of child soldiers in an undisclosed West African war-torn country. All those topics I mentioned that friends have expressed as difficult to watch are showcased in this movie, relentlessly, and unforgivingly. While some hope is offered and the beauty of the scenery is breathtaking (the entire film was shot in Ghana) the viewer does not feel good after finishing this film. Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) expertly directs this story with so much elegance and respect and passion, it shows in every shot, and frames the movie in such a way that allows the viewer to become one with the film’s protagonist.

Many child actors are hard to watch on screen. They tend to overact, mug for the camera, and over-emote. Once in a while, though, a stunning performance is captured and a child is able to play a role with such transcendent skill that one can only be amazed by their talent. This is one of those rare cases. Abraham Attah plays Agu, a young boy who sees his small village overtaken and his family murdered as he fleas into the bush looking for safety. While on the run he meets up with a rebel army led by Idris Elba’s Commandant, and becomes a soldier who slowly climbs the ranks and earns Commandant’s respect and trust. Attah is able to show the fierceness, fear, insecurity, doubt, and horror of Agu and majestically moved from scene to scene, progressively embodying the role of a child forced to grow up and hardened by a constant stream of horrors that slowly chip away at his humanity. He is matched by Elba in his best role to date, as the charismatic and deranged leader of the militia. The friendship between Agu and a fellow child soldier named Strika provides an emotional component to the movie that was necessary and important for Agu’s evolution.

While the movie has been released in a few theaters to qualify for Oscar consideration, it is also already available online because Netflix is the studio that produced the film, marking the site’s first foray into movie production. The film is therefore accessible to all and worthy of being watched, because while not an easy thing to watch, it is important and, above all, a masterpiece.

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