In the opening scenes of Beasts of No Nation we meet Agu, a young, happy boy, and are immersed in his innocent existence. It is an intimate, humorous and familiar portrait of domestic life. Whilst Agu (Abraham Attah) is growing up in a remote and fictional African town – the 'no-nation' to which the title refers – he is universally relatable: a grandchild, a young brother, a son.
Yet this opening narrative is a ruthless device that belies the terrors awaiting Agu, bringing his horrific experiences uncomfortably close to home. When his country is torn apart by civil war, Agu is taken under the wing of a rebel Commandant (Idris Elba). Consumed by the atrocities of the ensuing campaign, the innocence of Agu’s youth is quickly eroded. Agu is ultimately severed from his childhood – long before he's able to find his way as an adult.
The chopped cinematography and gripping battle scenes make for compelling viewing (as one might expect from the True Detective director who brought us this six-minute single-shot sequence). However, it's the moments of quiet – the sweaty, Kurtzian tension – that really allow both Attah and Elba to demonstrate their incredible performative range.
Beasts of No Nation is perhaps the most audacious offering from director Cary Fukunaga, whose other works include Jane Eyre (2011) and Sin Nombre (2009). Whilst it might be argued that the violence on screen is gratuitous, Agu’s experiences are no less horrific than the reality that Fukunaga wishes us to confront.
Beasts of No Nation, then, tells one imagined story that represents the voice of real child-soldiers, whose experiences go habitually unheard, buried in the death tolls we half-hear of on the news or skim-read in the morning papers.
Fukunaga's new film is uncompromising, vicious and tragic. Due for release on Netflix and selected cinemas on October the 16th, it is no wonder it is already tipped for an Oscar.
|Beasts of No Nation review
|Various Locations | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
16 Oct 15 – 31 Dec 15, In cinemas and on Netflix 16 October
|£ determined by cinema
|Watch Beasts of No Nation on Netflix from 16 October