“Beasts of No Nation”

“Beasts of No Nation”
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

I have great confusion over this film…and I think that’s probably the point. Revolving around the craziness that is civil war in a small “unnamed African country” (as the publicity states), this slice of hell is told from the point of view of a young boy…a boy with a loving family in a tight-knit community, with goals and hopes, who is suddenly thrown in to a world he is in no way able to understand. It makes no sense for him…and in many ways, Fukunaga does the same with plot, character development and pace. Everytime we think we understand something or, rather, get comfortable with any of the above, it shifts and pivots…sometimes in incredibly frustrating ways.

This is most notably true of Elba’s “Commandant.” The jib of his character shifts so many times, it changes your viewpoint of him in massive ways throughout (alas, his accent shifts about as often, but it’s not a great problem). Some of his scene-work is a little off…which keeps you on your toes, but overall, it’s pretty masterful.

But thanks to the beautiful and multi-dimensional portrayal of the protagonist, Agu, by Abraham Attah, it’s a film well worth your time. He straddles innocence with acts of abject violence and maintains your empathy throughout. It’s an astonishing performance…every bit as impressive as the child performer most mentioned this season, Jacob Tremblay, for his performance in “Room”. The mute friend of Agu, Dike, played by Emmanuel Affazi, deserves mention as well for allowing us to be reminded that these are children…and that their reactions to the horrors of war are very different than what we seein adults, especially as it relates to brotherhood and friendship.

My only (admittedly, persnickety) problem with the film is its ending…it has the feel of “we better wrap this up”…but if you can extrapolate that slightly disappointing characteristic, you will feel a sense of closure.

Finally, Dan Romer’s score, best described as Vangelis-meets-Peter-Gabriel-esque, is quite beautiful and well worth a listen on its own.

This is not an easy film to get your head around, but it demands your attention throughout, and is an original and unique examination of a very real, and mostly ignored, problem.

Written on 1/30/2016

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