Fans of the HBO hit series True Detective know who Cary Fukunaga is and why he excites fans with his first feature length film for Netflix. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a charismatic warlord whose duties are to recruit child soldiers to do his dirty work as civil war rages on. While Elba brings a spectacle of a performance, it is non-actor and native African Abraham Attah who brings the emotional weight to this tragic story. Painting an quick paced Africa broken apart by war and violence Fukunaga directs, writes, and produces a film that shatters your psyche within twenty minutes.
Sucking you into an Africa that is beautiful and rich in culture, the story effortlessly introduces a collection of characters that centers around Agu (Attah) and his family before they are torn apart by violence and power struggles that have been illustrated in countless other films relating to the same topics seen in films like Blood Diamond or Hotel Rwanda. Through the inner monologue of this young boy, it’s a road filled with shrapnel and the loss of innocence that doesn’t shy away from the brutality that victims of the civil wars face. Through psychedelic imagery in some scenes, you feel the hallucinations of our characters through their drug abuse and overall pressures from Elba’s warlord Commandant.
The pacing comes from quick cuts and a bright color pallet that contrast with the rapid nature these children are experiencing as the loss of their families and humanities strip them of what they once were within no time at all. Not lacking violence, Fukunaga respects his audience by not adding gratuitous violence to an already volatile landscape that most viewers are all too familiar with. Through blood thick tension the audience loses breath at the initiations and thievery of these poor African people as they struggle to stay alive as their morality fades.
While not being a True Detective viewer myself, I am aware of the excellence of the first season (which Fukunaga directed) and the departure of Fukunaga for the second season created controversy as the season slumped in quality (where in quality I don’t know) with Fukunaga not being the director. It proves that he is a force to be reckoned with in the directing department whose ability to transcend violent and harsh worlds in a way that makes you not only tense, but have sympathy, and heartbreak.
Beasts of No Nation is a stellar film with performances that deserved their praise, but as far as Oscars, Elba was right to not be included. His accent is good, but fairly shaky at times as the Commandant. It’s Abraham Attah that steals the show as Agu that is the most deserving of praise for his performance. It was a quality year for young actors and Agu is a character that sucks you in like a tornado of conflict. Did it deserve a plethora of awards at the Oscars, probably not, but it’s a quality film from a young director with a bright future.