Published Oct 16, 2015Based on the novel by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation is an impressive film that distinguishes itself through its attention to detail. Directed by the acclaimed Cary Fukunaga (True Detective), Beasts traces the devastating chain of events that befalls Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy living on the edge of a civil war in an unnamed West African nation as he becomes a child soldier. While the lack of specificity regarding the location and the political allegiances can be slightly disorienting, Fukunaga ensures he focuses on the internal effects on Agu, implying that his experience is applicable to any young boy faced with the same harrowing transition.
Because we see Agu as a normal, mischievous, endearing young boy in the film's early scenes, his path to nonchalant, detached killing after he is separated from his family by murder and migration under the malevolent sway of the Commandant (Idris Elba) should be more jarring, but Fukunaga's nuanced direction anchors the process so that it seems an entirely understandable, albeit agonizing, process. Central to making this seem believable is Attah, who shoulders the acting load admirably, and Elba, whose fearsome Commandant is a savvy manipulator. Despite the brutality on display, Fukunaga never lets us forget the unenviable circumstances these children are in, bringing a powerfully insightful and brutal story of boyhood interrupted to the screen.