Based on Uzodinma Iweala’s book of the same name, “Beasts of No Nation” details the experiences of Agu, a child soldier caught up in a brutal civil war in an unnamed West African country. The film is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, well known for his previous works, including “Sin Nombre,” “Jane Eyre” and “True Detective.” True to form, Fukunaga creates a visual and auditory masterpiece, drawing viewers into Agu’s nightmarish, but realistic, world of pain and loss.
The performance of the lead actors, Abraham Attah (playing Agu) and Idris Elba (playing the Commandant who leads Agu and the other the child soldiers) is nothing short of exceptional. While Elba is a seasoned veteran, having won several acting awards even before “Beasts of No Nation,” he is outshined in many ways by first-time Ghanaian actor Attah, whose raw emotional weight drove forward the film at even the slowest parts.
Paradoxically, it is during the most gut-wrenching scenes when it is hardest to look away. “Beasts of No Nation” is a harrowing tale, and every time it seems the situation cannot get worse, Fukunaga manages to surprise. Yet simultaneously, it manages to highlight the enduring nature of humanity; after all Agu goes through, he chooses not to define himself by his time as a soldier, but by his life with his family before the war.
Though the name of the country the film is set in is never revealed, the pattern of government and rebel militias fighting for control is all too familiar for many in the region. For a brief period, the “Kony 2012” movement brought to light the atrocities occurring in Africa, but the plight of child soldiers did not end when social media moved on.
“Beasts of No Nation” is an eye-opening experience that puts into perspective a reality that, for many of us, was never anything more than a statistic. Fukunaga has created an unforgettable film that, while difficult to watch, offers a provocative insight into the horrors of war.