Review: ‘Beasts of No Nation’ offers great acting but can be hard to watch

Timothy Page, Arapahoe Pinnacle Movie Critic

Agu was a normal kid. He played with other kids in his village, messed around with his family, and was even being home-schooled. When all of that is ripped away within a moment, Agu’s life changes drastically.

Set in an unnamed African country, “Beasts of No Nation” is Netflix’ first original film. It is available on the streaming service and in limited release in theaters.

It’s a brutal, gut punch of a film that sticks with you.

“Beasts” is about Agu becoming a child soldier and believing he is fighting the people who took everything from him. He is taken in by The Commandant (an Oscar-worthy Idris Elba) and joins the battalion that he’s built. It’s mostly made of young men and boys all doing things that no one should.

Abraham Attah (Agu) is incredible. This is his first acting credit, but he carries the film. You can see and feel every emotion on this boy’s face. Idris Elba (Pacific Rim and BBC’s Luther), as I said before, gives an Oscar-worthy performance. The rest of the cast of mostly unknown boys and young men do a great job. They’re ferocious, brainwashed, and drugged out but you get a feeling that they were all lost before taken advantage of by this commandant.

This movie also is beautifully shot. Writer and Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Director of season 1 of True Detective) does a masterful job at pulling off the set pieces. With tracking shots and minimal shaky camera, you see everything that is happening, and it has more than one scene that kept me glued to the screen during the violence. As Agu fights, at times, he is on heroin (they call it Brown-Brown), so the movie’s color palate changes as all the bright green foliage turns a dark red. It’s incredible and makes us see through Agu’s eyes and see what this child is experiencing.

Now I will say this movie isn’t for everyone.

It’s hard to watch and emotionally disturbing at times, but it also does something that I really liked.

Amidst the bleak and violent reality that you and Agu see, the movie ends on a hopeful note. I won’t say how, but as it cuts to black and the credits roll you get a feeling that Agu, even though he has committed terrible crimes, isn’t all the way gone. Agu’s childhood and life may return to normal one day. It’s a surprisingly hopefully ending to a movie that was full of hopelessness.

Rating: 4.5/5 A well done and hard-to-watch film.