Review: Beasts of No Nation – A brave, macabre step forward for Netflix

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HERE at SCM we’ve been writing a lot up on Netflix original content over the past few months. However, Netflix has entered a new arena on its path to redefining the way we consume film and TV. Whilst they have set a new tone on how original content can be delivered and distributed some excellent content, they have now ramped up a gear; feature length films, its first being the sombre Beasts of No Nation.

Set in a non-specified African country, Beasts tells us the tale of Agu, a young boy turned child soldier following the rupturing of his family and village caused by civil war. After this tragic event, Agu finds himself in the company of a rebel military regiment under the control of the Commandant, who becomes a new father figure for the youngest addition to the cause.

Much of this film rests with the abilities of its cast, and it is in safe hands with the always stellar Idris Elba playing the Commandant, and newcomer Abraham Attah, in his first performance, playing Agu. Attah’s performance is nothing short of excellent, with the film focusing almost entirely on him and his story, from one low point to another.

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Director Cary Fukanaga brings a lot to this dark tale. Perhaps best known for his impressive work on the first season of True Detective, his as a skill as a director has already been proven. That being said this is his feature length debut, a whole new challenge entirely, being filmed in Ghana, not set in America. But Fukanaga steps up to the challenge and delivers a beautiful looking film, something satisfying in itself, even if it does not have complex camerawork like True Detective.

If the topic of child soldiers is not chilling enough, the many other horrifying acts depicted in this film are civil war, drug taking, indiscriminate killings, violence against women, families being split up, incompetent governance, and ultimately the failing of an international system. And it is in all of this despair-inducing narrative there is a message that you can turn away from all of this and live with free will, enjoying life.

But, ultimately, perhaps what is most depressing is that it holds up a mirror to what has and in some cases is still happening without providing a commentary to the predicament. This is what makes this is hard film to watch and also talk about. It presents the literal “beasts of no nation”, people who, by the very definition, have no national identity in a world where this is one of the most important things, and it is only their decision to walk away from violence that people can have peace.

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Such a profound message makes this film such a thought provoking piece of art that is worthy of any awards it can receive. Its limited release in cinemas and major promotion on Netflix has me concerned that not enough people will see this film.

If the mantra of Netflix over the past few years has been to become HBO before HBO becomes Netflix, then Netflix has accomplished their goal. Even if Netflix is in fact only the distributor, not actually having paid any money to the making of the film, its control over the distribution makes it, for all intents and purposes, a Netflix film.

With HBO already producing award-winning films such as Behind the Candelabra, Netflix has well and truly stepped up to the plate with Beasts, its beautiful shots, excellent acting and introspective message adding up to a complete package. Beasts is most definitely not a rousing film but it is most definitely worth your time watching, I have been thinking about this film for a while and will continue to do so for a good time longer.

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