Jane Eyre, True Detective and now Beasts of No Nation; Cary Joji Fukunaga is one of the world’s most exciting and versatile filmmakers. Beasts of No Nation, adapted by Fukunaga from the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, drags you into an uncompromising civil conflict, where young impressionable orphan men have just the right amount of fear to follow the charismatic war chieftain Commandant (Idris Elba). The Commandant and his crew of child soldiers wage guerrilla warfare across the countryside to disrupt their opposing faction attempting to seize power.
Abraham Attah plays Agu, the central character and Beasts unfolds from his perspective. Attah has an incredibly expressive face that seems to drag you toward the despondency of this situation. In the opening act of the film you see his father buy his mother and sister a ride out of the city that’s about to be overrun with soldiers. He has to bear witness to the brutal murders of his brother and father and escapes the slaughter by a hair only to be caught in the net of the Commandant.
Idris Elba’s Commandant is both savage and alluring. His power and charisma creates a savage ‘Stockholm syndrome’ in this touring Island of Lost Children. It’s a performance filled with personal insecurity, manipulation and ferocity.
Fukunaga is incredibly skilled at composing his frames, but it’s clear that exemplary production design is an essential ammunition to realising his vision. The intentionally ragged uniforms for the Commandant’s army are so perfectly oversized and altered.
Agu awakens to the fissures in the Commandant’s plans as the conflict decreases in intensity. Fukunaga frames the Commandant’s power as perversely sexual. In the hidden wilderness, away from the glaring lights of the civilised world, the laws of his tribe are in a vacuum. Their cause is true, his laws are absolute. There’s a fear that he’s able to conjure in his ranks that gives him absolute power. The force begins to get back to the fringes of society, particularly in one of their last stops at a store where they enlist the services of some young ladies. The fluorescent lights of the outpost denote a small taste of civilised reality that can’t contain their conquest and they can’t help but pillage and plunder. Everything about the men that these boys have been bent into is essential to their survival in the heinous civil, guerrilla warfare. Finally, as Commandant and the boys arrive at the military outpost to receive their orders, the bureaucratic water torture of waiting for new orders, and receiving “rewards” for the brutal guerrilla warfare being waged strips the characters of their stature. Their camouflage and rag tag attire in the first sense clashes with the sensibility of the vacated corporate settings. The final act of the film loses the tempo and the extremity of the opening stages of the film. You’re dragged into the Commandant’s failure to translate marauding reputation into peacetime stature. Forced back into a now prison-like jungle to watch his militia begin their slow rebellion.
Fukunaga and author Uzodinma Iweala are intent on highlighting the abhorrent foundations that regional and civil disputes create, and how these constantly underpin and rot away at future contentment. Beasts of No Nation shows the gestation of the monsters that consume the future generations with darkness or debilitating psychosis.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by: Cary Joji Fukunaga based on the book by Uzodinma Iweala
Abraham Attah … Agu
Idris Elba … Commandant
Kurt Egyiawan … 2nd I-C
Ama K. Abebrese … Mother
Kobina Amissah-Sam … Father
Francis Weddey … Big Brother
Grace Nortey … Old Witch Woman
Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye … Strika