Movie Review: Beasts Of No Nation Has A Home
I recall one of K’Naan’s songs in which he was talking about gangsters, making fun of the gangsters he saw in the states. And he was talking about how those gangsters should travel to Somalia where they would meet kids who have been gangbanging since they were twelve; kids who have killed more people than I’ve had meals.
Maybe a tad exaggerated but – you get the point.
Beasts of No Nation feels like that.
An angry, uncompromising yet hopeful film, Beasts of no Nation is adapted from a novel by Uzodinma Iweala, son of Dr. Ngozi Okonji-Iweala, which in turn takes its name from Fela’s 1989 album of same name, which also happens to be my favorite Fela track of all time.
But I digress.
The movie has won two awards, The Marcello Maestroianni award at the 72 Venice film festival and the National Board Review award in Breakthrough Performance for Abraham Attah, lead actor who plays Agu. The movie and Attah and Elba are still on several waiting award lists – with Idris himself bagging an Oscar nomination for best actor in a supporting role.
The movie is about a boy, Agu, growing up with his family in an unnamed African town, the mischief he gets into with his brother whose only ambition is to sleep with some girl. Brother works out, dances – all in a bid to get said girl’s attention. Agu on the other hand keeps wondering what soldiers (ECOMOG soldiers, amended as ECOMOD) are doing in their town and what will become of them.
All too suddenly everything changes as war is declared on the village with the country’s military sent to occupy. Agu’s father manages to buy safe passage for his mother and sister, so he has to stay with his brother and father to protect their land.
The military invades and takes Agu, his father and brother and calls them spies. They’re lined up to be killed, but his father tells him and his brother to run. As they run, he sees his father shot – and then his brother.
And then, we are introduced to the rebel commandant AKA Idris Elba.
The man who got critical acclaim for playing Stringer Bell in one of the highest rated TV series of all time; The Wire is his charismatic finest here. He is a violent, unapologetic warrior whose purpose and goals become confused as the movie progresses.
And he got an Oscar nomination for his role in this one. Finally.
Beasts of No Nation is a raw, honest movie about war; the horrors, cost and purpose of it, how many die to protect the selfish interests of few. The commandant kept stressing “We do it for our people” but at some point they sack a civilian town, murdering hundreds and hundreds of innocents. Agu continuously questions God, because his father told him, “When things like this happen, you have to be strong. It is God testing us.”
Few moments later, he is dead.
Further into the movie (which is narrated by Agu in voiceover), he says, “Mother, it is you I talk to now because God isn’t listening.”
Beasts of No Nation is intense and gripping, a tightly-wound narrative that follows the rise and fall of ambition as personified by Elba’s commandant. There is a scene in which Agu makes his first kill, a very graphic scene and not for the fainthearted. The commandant asks him; “Have you chopped watermelon before? Oya chop chop!”
The boy soldiers are strong characters; my personal favorite being a mute kid named Strika. Strika is the one who the commandant marks Agu for; together they are in the Commandant’s personal detail. They also share something else in common – something I suggest you see the movie to find out. There’s one guy who was nude through most of the movie – who finally wore pants only to die. A friend who saw the movie with me kept asking “Are you sure they casted these guys?” in reference to the Commandant’s rebel forces – or the NDF.
They look so real; thrown together by desperation yet bound together by love – or what passes for it. The tragedy of this movie is we watch and are being entertained by the reality of some children who grow old before they grow up.
I suggest that the fellas do this without the ladies, except you have a few pieces of tissue handy and are prepared to be clawed to pieces. Beasts of No Nation is impressive, saddening yet hopeful at the same time.
Do not see any other movie after this. Just come home, hug madam/bros if you have one, pour out some liquor if you’re on your own.
And be grateful for your life and simple pleasures; like enjoying a movie at the cinema.
Beasts of No Nation is showing at Ozone Cinemas.
Fri-Thur: 11:50am, 4:15pm, 6:00pm, 8:20pm