Okay, so I’m blaming Beasts of No Nation as the reason why my Best Of and Worst Of lists of 2015 has STILL not been published. I held off on doing the lists because, based on the word of mouth and buzz I had been hearing, I thought there was a possibility it might end up on my Best Of list. And then I watched it but never found time to review it properly. And before I knew it, December 31, 2016. So before it’s too late, here goes.
Beasts of No Nation is a harrowing coming-of-age film about a young boy (Abraham Attah, who is going to be in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming) who becomes a child soldier in Africa, fighting under a terrifying warlord played by the brilliant Idris Elba. It’s written, shot, and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the genius behind the first season of True Detective, and you can see shades of his style and flavour all throughout this film.
It’s a traumatic and uncompromising film in many respects, and yet comes across as authentic. Idris Elba, in particular, is spectacular, really lifting the film into another stratosphere. It was a total-package performance, from the look to the voice (including accent) to the subtle expressions and body movements. I knew I was watching Idris Elba on the screen but the character he was playing on the screen genuinely made me uneasy and afraid.
That said, the film does follow quite a predictable progression and lacks the gut-punches that would have made it a much more memorable film. I’m doing this review a few months after I watched it, and yet there aren’t many scenes or moments that stand out. I feel like the first half of it, when the boy is being initiated into the militia, comes across as more gripping. The expected fall from grace in the second half wasn’t quite as convincing.
Beasts of No Nation is a very good film, a hard-hitting, well-shot and well-acted movie. There was talk that the film, or at least Idris Elba of receiving an Oscar nomination, but when it/he didn’t (he did get a Golden Globe nomination), there were suggestions that it was slighted because it was released globally on Netflix. I don’t quite agree with that assessment. As much as I liked the film, it didn’t wow me or floor me like I thought it might, and for me there were easily better films and performances that year.
3.75 stars out of 5