You’ve probably heard some murmurs about Beasts Of No Nation, by now. It’s the new film that’s being heralded as groundbreaking – the one to change the way we consume modern cinema. Written for screen and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the movie is being distributed by Netflix. It’s been available to stream for some weeks now, and is about to start a limited theatre rollout in the USA.
So why is it groundbreaking? Because it’s a seemingly crazy idea that might just have worked. Netflix hardly ever release numbers – they like to play their cards close to their chest. But even the folks over at the global-streaming powerhouse are excited about the reception to Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation. Early numbers suggest that in North America alone, 3 million subscribers have watched the film. That’s a huge amount for a tiny and daring specialty movie which cost 6 million USD to make. Worldwide, Netflix has a subscriber base of 69 million people across 50 countries, and in it’s first week of release Beasts Of No Nation was the most watched film in all 50 countries.
All of this is very exciting, but what about the movie? Well, the movie is astounding. Anyone who has watched anything, film or short or television, by Cary Joji Fukunaga knows that he is a director who makes projects which are as beautiful as they are noteworthy. Beasts Of No Nation is no exception, and it might even be his best outing yet. Fukunaga also acted as his own cinematographer for the film, which is impressive, especially when you add it to all of the man’s other titles; director, writer, producer, cinematographer, cameraman, snake-wrangler…
It should be said, Beasts Of No Nation is not an easy film to watch. For as stunningly shot as it is, it is also brutal to sit through. More than once, I found myself out of breath, from either holding it or because my chest was tight with all manner of nerves. The desperation of the characters is palpable, and the fear of Agu – our protagonist – is such that you are on the edge of your seat for him, and with him, the whole way through.
It is a testament to Fukunaga’s passion for his subject that we as an audience are not coddled through the story, but are made to watch it play out. The frightful realities of war are nothing short of terrifying, for us and Agu both, and these moments are perfectly and unwaveringly captured on the screen. We are taken through deceptively and dangerously beautiful landscapes, watching a tiny and lonely boy make his way though a suddenly very empty world.
The pacing of the film is suburb, I found. Even though I scarcely managed to catch my breath, it was never too much, and at the same time entirely the point. It was never unbearable. It was unpleasant, but so is life, and most especially Agu’s life.
Agu is played by newcomer and first-time actor Abraham Attah. Attah carries the heavy weight of Beasts Of No Nation on his shoulders with as much grace as talent, and he is deserving of all of the praise, accolades and awards he has received for his performance thus far, and then some. The other major player is Idris Elba. Elba plays the abominable Commandant, and is a veritable mountain of a man. He takes up space in every frame he walks into, and right from the start you know who he is and what he’s about. When the Commandant is around, you can’t not see him – he never blends in, ever the frightful authoritarian. Or, almost.
Beasts Of No Nation is not just a movie about war. It is a story about innocence lost, and loss itself; about family and boyhood and brotherhood. The film feels strong and well resolved, a movie that is not only beautiful to look at but also to listen to. The sound direction is perfectly complimentary of the visuals of the film, and the script is a brilliantly written lesson in restraint.
Agu warns us, in the beginning, of what’s to come. He says, “When I’m closing my eyes, I am seeing the rainy season in my village. You can be finding the ground is washing away beneath your feet. Nothing is ever for sure. And everything is always changing…” And that’s what Beasts Of No Nation, is: a storm, but it’s one you should weather.