Beasts of No Nation, 2015
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Agu lives in war-torn Africa. His country is at war where he lives with his father, mother and 2 siblings. He's an imaginative and cheerful child, curious and mischievous. However, the war escalates and Agu's city is invaded. The men decide to stay behind to protect the city, while the women and children start a mass exodus. Agu is supposed to leave with his mother and baby sister, but there is no room for him in the few packed cars leaving the city. He is left alone with his older brother and father who still reside in the city. However, his family is discovered in hiding and Agu and his brother flee while their father is executed as a spy. Agu's brother is shot while fleeing. While Agu is hiding in the vast forest, he is recruited by a group of child soldiers. His commander is enthusiastic and fearful and persuades Agu that, by joining them, he can exact revenge on the men who killed his family.
Beasts of No Nation is a beautiful and heartbreaking film. And I honestly expected no less from Cary Fukunaga, who plays director, cinematographer and screenwriter here. Fukunaga is best known for directed the entirety of True Detective's first season. I was a huge fan of True Detective's first season and was definitely curious about his decision to direct a film on this subject matter.
This film is set in an unnamed West African country. To be honest, I know extremely little about Africa, or what is going on there. And while Fukunaga doesn't fully explain everything (he doesn't even particularly explain why the war is happening), he creates a film where we see everything through Agu's eyes, seeing the world as he sees it. And like 12 Years A Slave, this movie is filled with beautifully horrific moments, but also moments of hope.
I honestly can't say enough about what Fukunaga has created here. He explores so many different themes in this movie, but it never feels convoluted. It feels raw and real, and I feel like I'm watching something that could actually be happening right now. The screenplay is complex and explores many different things. Masculinity, war, anger, brokenness... Particularly, there's this horrific scene of a character killing someone with a sword. The camera angle is perfect, with the characters lashing, but the camera cutting off right where the body would be. The blood is splattering the screen and we know exactly what is happening without fully seeing it. The sound is muted and the scene is slowed. It's beautiful and horrendous.
As well, Abraham Attah was so natural and wonderful to watch. He brought such life to Agu and made him seem so completely real. Nothing ever felt forced and everything felt real. As well, can I talk about this film without mentioning Idris Elba? Elba here is just so fantastic. His character is evil and horrid, but you almost can't help but follow his lead. He's charismatic and persuasive, but is also so incredibly vile and awful. Elba is currently the frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and I feel this is justified. Elba fully embodies this awful person and brings him such life, without ever turning caricature.
I very much hope the Oscars embrace this movie. I feel like it should be much more of a force to be reckoned with. If it were up to me, this would definitely make it in to Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. At the very least. Beasts of No Nation is a difficult movie to watch, but it's well worth the time. It's heartbreaking and is raw and real. I look forward to whatever Cary Fukunaga does next.