The Netflix wonderchild that is Beasts of No Nation is a first of its kind. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the creator of HBO’s hit TV Series True Detective, Beasts of No Nation is the first in an (expected) long line of films to be released as part of Netflix’s original movie division (which in itself took over a year to develop and to acquire rights to films that could put the streaming service in the Oscar frontline).
Be warned BONN (as I shall call the film) is not for the faint of heart.
The story itself follows a child’s attempt to be reunited with his mother in the midst of a tragic war that is tearing his country (an unnamed West African country). Agu (played by newcomer Abraham Attah) is forced to join a vicious mercenary faction lead by the sadistic Commandant (Elba). We follow his transformation from innocent child to murderous child soldier in rapid succession. Attah’s onscreen transformation is astounding, if not slightly saddening as BONN is an account of modern day war through the eyes of one if its many casualties – its children.
Despite the film being a considerable commercial loss for the company, rest assured the film more than makes up for its monetary loss in critical reviews.
The film packs an overwhelming emotional punch. It is visually stunning and socially impactful, the film’s social commentary making it one of the better war films of recent years. The look of the film is reminiscent of Richard Mosse’s famous photographs of war-torn Congo) in all its contextual and aesthetic complexities. Fields awash with pink (an effect of the use of Kodak Aerochrome infrared film) as rebel groups and their soldiers pose against the primordial jungle backdrops or along valleys that extend as far as the eye (and the camera) can grasp, these depictions of war are both unique and aesthetically stunning. Fukunaga’s personal creative style is littered all over the film’s cinematography and design – the bleak, hellish landscapes are seared on my mind.
Perhaps much of the film’s power and substance comes from Attah. Attah is sensational, providing a selfless performance as the hero of this story, his personal account largely propelling the narrative. His onscreen prowess and presence far exceeds most of the other actors, maybe even Elba himself.
Fukunaga does not seek to moralize and educate; instead audiences are left to witness the film’s tragic events. Dialogue is kept to a minimum. All these elements make BONN as cinematic as it is compelling.
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark
Beasts of No Nation is now available online for Netflix subscribers Online and for a limited time in cinemas.