Let’s Get Reel: Beasts of No Nation

Kevin Doyle '16, Movie Columnist

What’s most significant about the recent movie, Beasts of No Nation, is not its harrowing portrayal of an unnamed conflict in West Africa (though that certainly sets the movie apart as well), it is the way it was released – through Netflix. Netflix bought the distribution rights to this festival film by the up-and-coming director Cary Joji Fukunaga, an unprecedented move for the company that is set to transform the way we consume movies. Though Netflix has begun releasing more and more original content, this award-winning movie is the first of its kind on the streaming service. Beasts of No Nation has no Oscar nominations, not because of its quality, but because of the way that it was released and the threat that poses to the traditional movie industry.
The movie follows a young boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) who lives in an unspecified West African village that is caught between equally brutal government and rebel armies. When their village turns into a battlefield, Agu is separated from his family and runs into the jungle to hide from the carnage. While attempting to survive in the jungle, the rebel forces capture Agu and force him to be a soldier in their rebellion. The commander of this army, known as the Commandant (Idris Elba) takes Agu under his wing as the rag-tag group of soldiers, made up of men and boys alike, wage a particularly horrifying form of war.
As you can imagine with a movie on this subject, this is not a film for the light-hearted. Everything you hear about African conflicts is in this movie: child soldiers, horrific violence, machetes, drugs, rape, etc. Fukunaga did extensive research on the Sierra Leone Civil War and the movie feels true to real life. The fighting is raw, vicious and up-close. And just like the child subject of the movie, you find yourself having become desensitized to the horrors as time wears on. What most surprised me about the movie was its cinematography, which was varied and incredibly well-done. The movie avoids going for birds-eye views of the action and prefers to keep you just as confused as the soldiers are during the fights.
Many of have said that Idris Elba was snubbed an Oscar nomination and I can agree. He does a fantastic job portraying the Commandant, who is the almost-mythical head of the rebel brigade. He is one-part military commander and one-part cult leader as he forms his soldiers into a pseudo-family through rituals, initiations and speeches. He can be cruel and unrelenting, but also compassionate and protective. Abraham Attah has a wonderful debut and though his role required less of him, it is clear to see that he has a bright acting future ahead of him.
If more directors like Fukunaga begin partnerships with Netflix, we may see one of the largest shifts in the way that movies are consumed. If you have Netflix, then I highly encourage you to watch this movie, it is well worth your time.