Beasts of No Nation – An honest telling of the horrors of war


Culture Editor, Asad Charania (SGUL) reviews the gripping Beasts of no nation 


“I saw terrible things… and I did terrible things. So if I’m talking to you, it will make me sad and it will make you too sad”
You may not have heard of Beasts of No Nation, but I assure you it’s an important film. Not simply because of the acting, story or direction (all of which are fantastic) but because it’s the introduction of Netflix (the film’s distributor) into the world of feature film production. On the face of it, this may not seem that important, but Netflix have given us a fantastic film and it was video on demand (VOD). With the convenience of VOD and the increasing theatre prices (£13 for an adult ticket at my closest cinema) Netflix may have just shown us the future of film. Don’t get me wrong I love going to the cinema, and some films have to be watched on a massive IMAX screen with its score blasted by surround sound speakers, but there is definitely a place for VOD. Studios may not like it, but it seems this is the way the industry will go, and with Netflix producing high quality films it appears they’re ahead of the curve.

Directed by Cary Fukunaga (who you may know as the director of True Detective) Beasts of No Nation follows the story of a boy Agu (Abraham Attah) as he survives the war which has descended upon his West African Village. After watching the death of his family by the army sworn to protect them, he is recruited as a child soldier to the rebel Native Defence Force. Here we see Agu’s horrific transformation, as he loses his humanity and becomes possessed by the horrors of war.
Currently, as many 300,000 child soldiers are involved in active conflicts around the world; a shocking estimate and a subject matter this film is not afraid to delve into. Beasts of No Nation does not shy away from the brutal reality that these children must face. Fukunaga is bold enough to show how these children are warped and brainwashed, often with drugs and violent initiations, until they lose their innocence.

Abraham Attah is fantastic as Agu, we see everything from his perspective and you are willing for his survival and redemption throughout the film. He definitely deserves a nomination, but being a film on VOD it may sadly be overlooked. Agu is recruited and led by the Commandant (Idris Elba), who is in an odd way, charming and charismatic. He is respected by his men and is aware of the true politics surrounding his war. Agu is taken under the Commandant’s wing and as an uneasy relationship develops between them Agu slowly sees the cracks in the establishment around him. Idris Elba was the perfect actor for this, in all his films he has a gravitas that keeps you engaged, and this is an essential quality which makes you believe that people would follow his every command.

Filmed in Ghana, during the monsoon season, the production had its fair share of problems, but it eventually produced a visually stunning portrait of West Africa. Fukunaga is talented director and when coupled with quality actors has produced a stunning piece of cinema, one of my favourite film of the year. Although some may find it difficult to watch, Beasts of No Nation is a gripping, poignant film and touches upon subject matters many people wouldn’t dare talk about. If this is the quality of films to be expected by Netflix then I’m excited for the future of VOD feature film production.

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