beasts-no-nation-posterThe saddest aspect of many of today’s conflicts is the presence of child soldiers, conscripted into becoming killers at a time they should be learning to read and write and playing games with their friends. Beasts of No Nation is beautifully adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s debut novel, the story of a 9-year-old boy named Agu in an unnamed West African country that’s in the throes of a civil war. He begins as a normal kid just goofing around with his friends. But when the army comes to his village and kills his dad and his brother, he flees into the jungle only to run into a rebel army headed by the charismatic Commandant played by the amazing Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) who molds the petrified and confused boy into a murderous warrior, while seducing him with the idea that they are his new family taking care of each other. It is altogether tragically horrifying.

Agu has no choice but to accept his place with the rebels, especially when it seems the leader has taken a special interest in him. The Commandant keeps his troops rallied behind him with equal parts fatherly affection, fear, wise rhetoric, and drugs, and their collective bloodlust leaves a string of massacred villages and convoys in their wake. And though it is Agu’s story, the Commandant’s arc from imperious warlord to philosophizing fugitive hiding out in a defunct gold mine shows even more how senseless the war is, and how fleeting power and prestige are in reality. (I could hear a rumble of awards buzz around that performance.)Beasts-Of-No-Nation-Agu-Idris-Elba First time actor Abraham Attah plays Agu with such a broad range you’d think he’d been acting for a long time. He begins the movie as a silly child and by the end is a war-weary old man in a kid’s body. So much of what he is feeling in the film is in his face. Unfortunately, many of his lines are lost to his thick accent, but nonetheless, his performance makes the film!

Beasts of No Nation is a Netflix original film, and will be opening in theaters the same day it goes up on the streaming site. You might be tempted to just see it at home, but it is such a beautifully shot heartbreak of a movie, it really deserves to be seen on the big screen. The film is a bit overlong (137 min.), but it is so powerfully done that I can overlook those few extra minutes. I do highly recommend it.

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