As you can see from the trailer above, Beasts of No Nation seeks to be a film that takes a hard look at child soldiers in Africa. Directed by Cary Fukunaga and produced by Netflix, my expectations were high considering their recent string of hits (Fukunaga directed True Detective season one and Netflix is behind Daredevil and Orange is the New Black).
The film centers on a boy orphaned by war and chronicles his transformation into a child soldier.
It’s a sobering tale. What’s also interesting is what this film attempts to achieve. On the one hand, it is a war movie in the vein of Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, but to a far lesser extant (no one’s charging Normandy beach here). It seeks to take a look at the horror and intensity of war in this part of Africa. Where it differs is that the protagonist soldier who fights this war is a child. And that is very jarring when compared to the old soldiers of World War II.
The actors are all fairly good. Sometimes during the film I felt like the portrayals were fake and superficial, full of overacted bravado. But after further thought, this may be exactly how the participants in this war act. I’ve met criminals in real life, and they weren’t criminal masterminds or heroes doing that last job before they quit their life of crime. They were just people doing things. Those things don’t need to make sense to everyone. The characters fighting in this film often times do horrendous things for seemingly no reason. Beasts of No Nation then, as a film that is based on real events, helps to show that real life is often stranger than fiction (even though this film is fictitious, it still helps show the pointlessness of real life events).
Also worth mentioning are the performances from the children, especially the protagonist played by Abraham Attah. Directing children to put out a performance like this is impressive in any kind of theatrical context and the children here, with this kind of subject matter, were amazing.
Score: 8.0/10 A cold, hard look at a bad situation. Worth watching. It’s horrific that this happens in the real world and that it is probably more violent and grotesque than what was portrayed in this film.