Film Review: Beasts of No Nation
I just want to be happy in this life - Agu
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Netflix-directed film, Beasts of No Nation, portrays the reality of being in the middle of a civil war as a child soldier. The war film based in an unspecified African country exposes the side of war in Africa that most of the public never sees or would ever really think about.
Through the eyes of Agu, portrayed by Abraham Attah, a young boy who is merely 11 years old, we’re introduced to life in a village that is surrounded by UN troops because it is a buffer zone. Despite having their education and peace and normalcy ripped from them, Agu, his family and friends live in high spirits and manage to find ways to entertain themselves. In the midst of government troops entering the zone, Agu is separated from his mother and sister, and traumatically losing his brother and father to the merciless troops declaring them spies.
Fukunaga shows the landscape of this country and the forests which Agu escapes to and suffering from hunger and having to squat in an abandoned hut. Throughout the movie we are accompanied with voice overs of Agu talking to God. He expresses his fear and the process of losing his innocence after he is taken in by guerrilla gang, led by an unnamed Commandant, played by Idris Elba. Along with his innocence, other child/teen soldiers lose theirs, peer pressured into taking up drugs, alcohol, committing murder, raping, and encountering molestation from the warlord. All this later traumatizes them when they find safety in a missionary school.
This voice over changes to being his conscience and is then directed towards his estranged mother, admitting to all the dark crimes he never thought he’d commit. Fukunaga leaves nothing in a war scene untouched, portraying the true horrors of being a child soldier. Other voice overs that made this film beautiful in its reality were voiceovers of young boys rapping in their native language.
A favorite aspect of this brutal film was the play on power dynamic among the guerrilla troops. Commandant takes a liking to Agu when he took him in, which clearly bothers the other boys prompting them to play games with him, slightly verbally abuse, force him to slave for them and in the end prove himself as a troop. They do so because of their initial ranking over him as a recruit. After, the commandant and him have an unspoken respect for each other and are also heavily contrasted in Commandant’s ruthlessness versus Agu’s strongly-held innocence.
Without spoiling any further, I’d like to elaborate on how much of a cinematic masterpiece this was. The director used mostly African actors, and kept the authenticity by having the actors use an African accent and speak in their native language. He also included a lot of tribal members and settings of what life is really like as a rebel soldier by having to live in bushes and using any means possible to gather food, be properly sheltered, but most importantly protect themselves with weapons. Nothing was left unscathed as you see all the traumatic events Agu experiences, while being aware of his diminishing childhood innocence he can never get back.
In simple words? Fukunaga portrayed something, raw, intense, harrowing and astonishingly emotional, giving the sheltered audience a view of life on the other side.