The opening shot of Netflix war drama Beasts of No Nation is framed by a hollowed television. Its prompt removal signals that what you’re about to watch is raw and real; a detailed and unfiltered depiction of Africa in the vein of Danny Boyle’s stripped back India in Slumdog Millionaire. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s third feature is a harrowing, uneasy and uneven portrait of war-torn Africa and its human casualties.
The story follows young Agu (Abraham Attah), whose life spirals downward when civil war rips apart his family and leads him to join a small faction of child soldiers led by the sinister Commandant (Idris Elba). Agu is born again in fire; forced to abandon his previous life and all sense of right and wrong by the manipulative Commandant. Following his descent is draining but seemingly crucial.
“Despite suffering from an overly long runtime, the film has some compelling themes, not least the role of religion in this culture of violence.”
Beasts of No Nation virtually throws you straight into the action. The early scenes establish what life for Agu is like before the viral affliction of war reaches his town, but no time is wasted in the dismantling of this reality. This actually works against the film, as the long stretches focusing mainly on Agu can be tiresome and a little slow. That isn’t to say that Abraham Attah doesn’t do an excellent job as our protagonist, on the contrary, his performance exceeds that of Elba’s as the Commandant.
Despite suffering from an overly long runtime, the film has some compelling themes, not least the role of religion in this culture of violence. The contradiction between Agu’s faith, his prayers to God, and the utter disregard for human life in war-ridden Africa is powerful in highlighting the regressive state in which the continent currently resides.
Beasts of No Nation may leave you short of patience at times, but it will certainly not leave you short of words.