Beasts of No Nation

Beautiful, but boring.
★★½
Movie Review #1,040

beasts_of_no_nation_ver8

Bleecker Street Media & Netflix
Drama, War
2 hours, 17 minutes
Not Rated
Released October 16, 2015
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Screenplay by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala
Starring Abraham Attah, Ama K. Abebrese, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe, Idris Elba, Vivan Boateng, and Richard Pepple

“Beasts of No Nation” is an unflinching account of a young child’s loss of innocence, set in a third-world West African country oppressed by a military regime. Abu is only 14 years old–and appears even younger–when he is forced to join a group of military radicals that have torn his nation apart. Though the story is fictional, it heavily reflects the realities of several Third World countries. As a mere wake up call, “Beasts of No Nation” is quite effective. In terms of its narrative, however, the film is lacking. The film is guaranteed to leave you feeling very fortunate to live a life that far exceeds the ones you see onscreen. But you’re just as likely to leave the film bored out of your mind.

The greatest asset to the film is it’s realistic nature. Idris Elba is chilling and appallingly real in his performance as a Ghadaffi-esque military dictator. He exhibits his power by emphasizing the scripted intricacies of his role. His introductory scene demonstrates this perfectly, and is shockingly exemplary. Every detail, down to the way he touches Abu’s forehead, or the way he blows cigarette smoke in his face, adds to the strong, malevolent stature of his character.

The technical side of “Beasts” is absolutely mesmerizing. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s cinematography is incredible and creative from the get-go. His visual mastery in “Beasts of No Nation” is an accomplishment that certainly outdoes his efforts as the film’s writer and director. That, combined with the unpretentiously three-dimensional sound mixing, brings us to the film’s setting. Even watching it on a laptop computer, you feel somewhat as if you’re there. Even the ending, which draws directly from “The 400 Blows” but feels superficial nonetheless, looks and sounds fantastic.

“Beasts of No Nation” starts off by introducing us to a society through the eyes of young, innocent Abu. We’re told of the impending war, but even so, the nation seems peaceful. Less than 20 minutes in, the script transforms ever so suddenly. Now it’s a full-blown depiction of the war affecting the country. It’s a bold move to make in a screenplay. I assume it’s meant to reflect the sudden shift that Abu himself notices from peace into oppression, but it doesn’t work out to well in execution. Imagine condensing the entirety of “Empire of the Sun” to a timeframe of less than 20 minutes. Now imagine following that directly with the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan”, elongated to nearly two hours. That’s a pretty accurate assessment of not only how uneven the transition between seemingly two plot lines is, but also of how darn slow the movie becomes once it passes the 20-minute mark.

“Beasts of No Nation” is the first narrative film to be distributed directly through Netflix. It also got a very small, short-lived release by Bleecker Street. Which is a shame, considering how technically cinematic this movie is–but since it is on Netflix, who says you have to watch it as you would in a movie theater? While exceptionally made, “Beasts of No Nation” is an increasingly boring film, so much that by the last thirty minutes, it’s practically begging you to start noodling around on your phone.

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