After shaking up the TV industry with original content like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix is now setting their sights on the movie industry with Beasts of No Nation – a harrowing thrill ride of a war film that matches the quality of the red envelope’s other exclusive programming.
After Agu (Abraham Attah), a preadolescent boy, is left without a family thanks to a war that his small African village is stuck in, he is found by a battalion of natives fighting against the enemy. Their commandant (Idris Elba) coerces Agu to join the fight.
Right from the beginning, teenager Abraham Attah brings a massive heart to a very distressing environment. When bullets are flying or the commandant is giving the poor kid a sinful order, Attah remains firmly on his feet, giving hope to the audience while simultaneously petrifying us due to his young age. How can an innocent child such as Agu so easily be sucked into such a brutal war? How Attah manages to grasp the character and transcend opposite the powerhouse Idris Elba is another good question.
Elba finds a great balance between sanity and insanity. The leader may seem approachable underneath his powerful title, but the commander has embraced the pure savagery of the situation and is far from afraid to be as brutal as required and then some. Elba is the perfect actor for the role, so it’s no surprise to see him ace it.
Both Attah and Elba excel under director Cary Joji Fukunaga – who adapted Uzodinma Iweala’s debut 2005 novel, co-produced, and shot the picture as well. After directing the first season of True Detective, Fukunaga embraces a very different story, but not one so dissimilar in tone. The uneasiness and fear that Fukunaga brought to HBO’s crime anthology series fits so well in the war-ridden jungles of Africa.
Your attention will rarely leave the screen, not only because Fukunaga’s script is filled to the brim with death and suspense, but because the danger of the situation is almost addicting. The sense of foreboding that comes into play about 10 minutes into the movie does not leave until the credits roll. It’s not edge of your seat intensity or gripping horror, it’s the care for Agu and a mix of fear and curiosity to the commandant’s actions. It’s engrossing war filmmaking at its finest.