To watch Beasts of No Nation is to be provoked, shelled and insatiable. The movie questions the truth of your surrounds, spins further into inexplicable, indomitable, primal fear, and loss of selfhood in a powerful and unusual narration directed by American film-maker Cary Joji Fukunaga. “Beasts of No Nation” is Uzodinma Iweala’s enthralling debut novel written in 2005. Iweala‘s inkling is an uncanny narration through the voice of a child soldier. The jargon is brutally fleeting. Widely thread around the sensitive vernacular, and a run riot of the progressive, singular/plural confusion, occasional strange vocabulary in an unnamed war-torn African nation.
Cary Fukunaga is known for his earlier film Sin Nombre, and popular HBO series True Detective. After his six years of research on the Sierra Leone Civil War that Fukunaga met to read Beasts of No Nation novel. “I read through the novel and I loved the elegant and concise way that Uzodinma Iweala told the story. I felt that would be the best way to enter the subject.” Carry handled both the screenplay and the photography. This was shot in Ghana with some of the Ghanaian stars Ama K. Abebrese, Grace Nortey and Abraham Attah as the child protagonist.
Beasts’ backdrop is the break out of the Civil war. The village is in a buffer zone enforced by ECOMOG troops (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group). The scene unbolts the opening through the hollow frame of a television set, scrupulously draws an attention of what the audience are watching cannot be switched on and off. There the screen introduces Agu (Abraham Attah) and his young friends playing around and bidding to pawn the piece of junk off as a make-believe TV. However they get a taker when a Nigerian soldier watching the side bits of the Agu’s act and takes pity on the boys.
The village obviously live in dismal scarceness and poverty. Agu’s family do not have much, but they are kept afloat by family as we see his father, who is a school teacher and a kind mother. There’s something honestly warm about this scene and the simple pleasures watching Agu’s family around the dinner table. This brittle sense of harmony is short-lived as the government falls, and military-aligned rebels start to seize control of the country. Most villagers flee to the country’s capital for safety and the soldiers from the national army invade the village. The existing locals are flawed as the rebels and in the course Agu’s mother is whisked away, his father and brother are unceremoniously executed, and he is left to fend for himself in the vast wilderness of West Africa,
Agu escapes into the countryside, and eventually comes across the rising rebel faction, the NDF. Agu is caught in the midst of gunfire and captured by a unit of mercenary rebels comprised mostly of young boys and led by a man they address as Commandant (played by Idris Elba). The grueling Commandant comes onto the scene as the most fearsome warlords. His name we never learn is dauntingly skilled at the art of instruction as he is at warfare. The character is a mercenary prophet, leading his band of child warriors into battle in the name of reclaiming what they lost. Agu’s impressive act drives the Commandant a liking and force into their ranks. After an inhuman initiation and regimentation, Agu becomes a child soldier. Strika, a mute child soldier befriends Agu in the camp literally of his same age. One night, the Commandant summons Agu to his quarters, compliments him, and gets into the cruel act of molestation and rapes him. Strika comforts Agu soon after.
There are several bloody battles and ambushes- the battalion takes towns, killing men, women, and children. The NDF leaders are summoned at the rebel HQ. The Commandant believing to be promoted as General is forced to demote by the Supreme Commander as the lieutenant take control.
The Commandant is greatly insulted. The celebrations of lieutenant’s promotion in the brothel, Tout de suite the lieutenant is shot by the Commandant. He along his men runs from their own faction and also from the UN and government forces. They suffer heavy casualties that include Strika. The survivors take shelter at the gold mine for several months. The supplies, water and food run out and Commandant in his salvage pledges his group to fight more. The new lieutenant reassures the soldiers to surrender to the UN, and at first Commandant refuses to let them go, but gives up after Agu cracks on him. The soldiers leave, and are detained by UN troops.
The child soldiers are sent to a missionary school in a safe part of the country on the coast. The other children play games and enjoy the comforts of the school, but Agu is grief-stricken by his war experiences, and suffers nightmares. The cruelest and disturbing scene is the one in which he kills his first man with a machete, though this merely triggers a chain of viciousness that’s all the more awful for how casual it is become. Further disturbing part is the gun powder sniffing of the child soldier and also can read the anguish where groups of children are lined up and shot with blanks to instil the belief that they are invincible and will never face death. The gruesome imagery of war through the eye of Agu is finally repenting and speaking to his school’s counsellor humanize and thou’ his life will never remain the same again and some memories never heal….. The final scene shows Agu finally joining the other boys as they swim and play in the ocean.
The vibrancy of Beasts’ is that the characters are mere un-bigot and the circumstances are cadaverous by the trials of war. Full credit to Cary Fukunaga the way he succeeds to combine the brutal realism of the subject matter with a surreal, almost mystical quality that makes the violence onscreen hit even harder. The story by itself questions that no ideology is brandished, no ideals are espoused and violations so intimate leaving nothing by its existence of human acts and devastations. The performance is powerhouse from Elba and Attah deserve the appreciation. The film is spectacularly gorgeous and shot in the locales of Eastern Ghana.
In a way, this is not a movie for the faint-hearted. It’s one of those rare monsters of a film, constructs and destroys making you so unsettled compelling to the endless journey of a young boy’s humanity and even the cheerful of finishes would not be able to change what is lost along the way……..Truth lost and courage found……………
- Screenplay; Cinematography & Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
- Based on Uzodinma Iweala’s Novel “Beasts of No Nation”
- Produced by Amy Kaufman; Cary Joji Fukunaga; Daniela Taplin Lundberg; Riva Marker; Jeffrey Skoll; Daniel Crown & Idris Elba; Ama K. Abebrese, Grace Nortey and Abraham Attah
- Music by Dan Romer
- Edited by Mikkel E. G. Nielsen & Pete Beaudreau
- Production companies: Netflix; Red Crown Productions; Participant Media; Levantine Films; New Balloon; Mutressa Movies; Primary Productions; Parliament of Owls; Mammoth Entertainment; RadicalMedia & Come What May Productions
- Distributed by Bleecker Street
- Release dates September 3, 2015 (Venice) & October 16, 2015 (US)
- Run time of 137 minutes
- Country : United States
- Language: English and Twi