The great thing about the boom of streaming services is that more and more films that might otherwise get lost in the grind of money making and theatrical releasing can have a stronger, more powerful life. The negative aspect is that they seldom come to the physical platform release, and so lack additional features that give an insight into the making of the film.
Beasts of No Nation could be considered the first Netflix film to bring about a level of prestige, before they racked up awards nominations with Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach movies, there were calls for Idris Elba to be rightfully nominated for his commanding turn in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s drama.
Now given a level of prestige by a Criterian Collection release, the film that follows child soldier Agu in an unnamed West African country during civil war, can be embraced all the more for the shocking and engrossing work of genius it is. As we follow the story of Abraham Attah’s Agu, Fukunaga never falters in showing the harsh realities of what child soldiers go through.
Fukunaga’s adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s debut novel offers a look at childhood born through blood and carnage. At times the depiction of a child in a war calls to mind Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun though this has a harder edge to it.
Attah’s performance is one of the great child performances, the question as to why he has yet to be given another juicy role to sink his teeth into – save for a thankless supporting role in Spider-Man: Homecoming – is all the more questionable. Not only does he hold his own against a towering Elba, but allows people who might not have any understanding of what child soldier’s go through an in to this world.
Fukunaga, who not only directs, writes and produces, but shoots the film, brings that level of detail he brought to the world of True Detective. Here the unwavering heat of the African landscape feels more claustrophobic than any interior could offer, the fact that no matter where you turn there is nothing but war.
By the film’s end, you feel thoroughly rung out by it’s harsh depictions of a world without compromise and yet thanks to Attah you feel that there is a future for Agu, and perhaps in time a film that explores the adult life of Agu may feel like a much needed response. Until then, Netflix first foray into prestige filmmaking remains one of it’s strongest, and remains one of the best war films of recent times.
Beasts of No Nation is released on Bluray on 27 September