By: Samar Khan
Greetings everybody, Chulbul-Pandey has arrived on the scene! This week, we decided to take a look at the movie Netflix is pushing as the one that will break down the boundaries between streaming and cinema: Beasts of No Nation.
How many have you enjoyed the visceral nature of Apocalypse Now, and the focus on characters within war rather than the war that The Thin Red Line masterfully explored? More than anything else out there, Coppola and Malick’s masterpieces are the most suitable points of comparison for the effect of Beasts of No Nation. After being battered by explosions and gunfire that are then interspersed with some horrifying plot developments, you leave the film and wear the same deep stare employed by its characters. After completion, it is easy to forget the charm of the film’s first ten minutes, where Abraham Attah’s Agu (in his brilliant film debut) playfully hustles Nigerian soldiers into buying the shell of his father’s television set. It is reminiscent of another classic film, City of God, where the exuberance helps in drawing you into the world of the children. That’s what makes the subsequent scenes that much more impactful, as darkness replaces the lighthearted nature of the introduction and pulls the viewer in towards experiencing the multiple horrors alongside Agu.
The final two hours is a gut-wrenching barrage of misery and brutal dilemmas, one after another. The narrative thread seemed to be very loose which seems purposeful, with the film utilizing child soldiers who most likely would not know what they experienced on the battlefield. There were multiple times throughout the film where I wondered how the plot would proceed but the characters and events they experienced outweigh any issues with a loose narrative.
The overarching point that the film drives home is about the aimlessness of the mission, with it stressing that war is much bigger than the soldiers fighting. Peace is not as easy to come by once the war -or any war- reaches its conclusion. Agu and his fellow child soldiers are fighting for a future that they will not be able to find solace in, from the living and economic conditions that tend to succeed war, nor from the inner peace that will not come about due to the atrocities they have committed. Similar to Malick’s aforementioned The Thin Red Line, the relationship with God in war is challenged; it is questioned whether it is at all possible for one to have any spiritual happiness after committing such massive sins. The film plays up the poor foresight in war, with brief segments such as a visit to the higher-ups serving to illustrate in very clear terms that war indeed benefits nobody on the battleground. The film does not preach these messages via endless exposition, instead relying on the fact that viewers will understand it from the way the events of the film have played out.
Abraham Attah absolutely marvels in his role, stealing the show in delivering a performance that will rightfully generate awards buzz in the coming months. His performance keeps viewers immersed in the film, eagerly following along with the multiple dimensions of his character, whether he is soaking in events or lashing out against them. Idris Elba played his role to a T, and helps in providing “Hollywood” legitimacy to a film that had no other major film or television actors outside of the Brit. He teeters undefinably on the line between being a manipulative villain and manipulative mentor, turning in the sort of performance that makes one gradually change their perception of his character. The film’s most dramatic moments are quite familiar, as they are staples witnessed multiple times in numerous other war films. However, Beasts stands out for having a young boy as its lead character that experiences the atrocities of war. It is a great performance from the cast when one can say that it more than held its own in comparison to a Hollywood star the likes of Elba.
Cary Fukunaga, he of True Detective (Season 1) fame, displays some wonderful cinematography. While the film does not blow you away with the same tricks as True Detective (that 6 minute 1-take scene is one of the all-time great scenes on Television), it has its superb moments. Fukunaga’s style favours ambient music over montages of the war scenes and while that makes it flow together it also means that its surprises fall by the periphery. It is easy to see this playing well on Netflix, with the full court push already on by the streaming network combining with the publicity generated by theater boycotts of the film generating some additional hype. Employing a graininess filter of sorts to the film added further authenticity to the film, but said filter thankfully does not deter from what was a beautifully shot film throughout. For any fans of photographer Richard Mosse, Fukunaga pays homage to his iconic Africa photograph with one scene that was outstanding both for its integration into the narrative as well as for how it served to spruce up a film focused on demolished African villages and vegetation.
With such a strong lineup of films still to be released in the final three months of 2015, Beasts will have an uphill climb trying to find its way onto awards ballots. With Attah’s remarkable performance as well as the subject material covered, Fukunaga may not experience as much of a climb as it seems. For any fans of the aforementioned The Thin Red Line and Apocalypse Now or just anybody that wishes to experience a war story outside of the usual “war over character” format, the film should be a no brainer.
On that note, Chulbul-Pandey bids thou adieu.
Beasts of No Nation earns a very respectable A-