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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The horrors of war through the eyes of a child

TIFFANY CHOI / AGGIE
TIFFANY CHOI / AGGIE

A review of Cary Fukunaga’s film, Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation is a film about a West African boy named Agu, played by Abraham Attah, who is forced to flee his idyllic village because of incoming war. Agu’s father and brother are mercilessly gunned down by invading army forces and he eventually finds himself joining a group of rebel soldiers, thus embracing the responsibility, brutality and burdens of war.

This film effectively reveals the devastation of war and the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts. At the beginning of the film, we see a happy Agu engaging in normal, child-like antics, but his happiness and innocence is abruptly stripped away when he joins a group of guerillas fighting against the national army. Agu then begins to transition from an innocent child to a ruthless product of war.

Beasts of No Nation is Director Cary Fukunaga’s third feature film, behind Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre and the first season of “True Detective. Fukunaga spent seven years writing the script for this movie before filming started in Ghana. Those who are familiar with Fukunaga’s work know that he specializes in presenting harrowing tales of youth in uncompromising situations. Beasts of No Nation is no exception.

We follow Agu and his fellow guerillas marching through jungles and pillaging villages. Fukunaga presents an incredibly realistic and raw depiction of West Africa. The brilliant cinematography and stunning visual effects make the explosion scenes seem frighteningly graphic and real. At times, the movie almost feels like a documentary.

Another one of the highlights of the film is 15-year-old actor Abraham Attah’s debut performance as Agu. Attah’s moving portrayal reveals the tragedy of child soldiers as well as the detrimental effects that war has on people. Throughout the film, Agu witnesses and inflicts death on countless people and questions if his actions are truly noble, showing that there is a fine line between good and evil. He joins rebel forces to avenge the destruction of his family, but finds himself inflicting the very anguish he so heavily feels.

Seasoned actor Idris Elba is phenomenal as the power-hungry, steadfast rebel Commandant. At times, however, Elba’s performance seemed to overshadow and distract from Attah’s. There were instances where Agu’s character was put on the back-burner to focus on people like the Commandant and Strika, a fellow child soldier played by Emmanuel Quaye. The complexities of these other characters detract from Agu’s story, but luckily the latter parts of the film are able to revitalize Agu’s narrative.  

The score for the movie, composed by Dan Romer, is also insipid at best. Music is a vital part of a movie because it can stir emotions during dramatic events, but Romer’s score was so weak it was almost nonexistent. Scenes like the one in which Agu stormed a villager’s home or held a dying rebel soldier in his arms would have been more memorable had they been accompanied by a more vivid score.

But apart from these missteps, Beasts of No Nation remains a gripping movie. And as brutal as some scenes in the movie may be, there is always a sense of hope — hope that one day children like Agu will be able escape atrocities of war and finally live normal lives. Films like this show that the voices of people who suffer heinous events need to be heard and acknowledged. Beasts of No Nation is a cinematic marvel led by an extremely talented cast that uncovers the atrocities of war and brings our attention to the plight of people who have often been forgotten by history. Films like this show that the voices of people who suffer heinous events need to be heard and acknowledged.

Written by: Krishan Mithal – arts@theaggie.org

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