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  Beasts of No Nation A Bad Rep For Africa
Year: 2015
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Stars: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Afadzi, Ricky Adeliyator, Andrew Adote, Vera Nyarkoa Antwi, Ama K. Abebrese, Kobina Amissah-Sam, Francis Weddey, Fred Nii Amugi, Grace Norti, Emmary Brown, ERnest Abbeyquaye, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Richard Pepple
Genre: Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Agu (Abraham Attah) was an ordinary kid in a certain African country where he would spend his time in school or hanging around with his friends, though with talk of war on the horizon there was a closure of the schools which left Agu with more time for his pals. They tried to sell any old junk they could find, and that included the shell of his father's television set that a soldier indulged them by giving the boys food in exchange for it, but Agu had no real concept of why there were soldiers there, nor the danger that was approaching. So when the war finally arrived, his life was thrown into turmoil and confusion - soon, he was alone.

Beasts of No Nation was notable as streaming service Netflix's first self-produced movie, and represented quite a coup to secure a project from Cary Joji Fukunaga, who was just coming off the back of the success and acclaim for his television series True Detective. It picked up awards nominations, was a prestige effort that ensured more people took Netflix seriously, and generally was well-received among its customers, with only a disagreement about its theatrical showings casting a slight cloud over the proceedings. Not that they needed the cinemas for anything other than publicity reasons, as it got the film reviewed widely.

The film also presented a very serious subject, that of African child soldiers, which, although Netflix was not a news organisation, could be viewed as contributing something to a sincere debate, yet therein lay the problem. There was too much in Fukunaga's approach that invited the audience to feel superior for learning about the subject, a self-congratulatory tone that extended to those watching, which was ultimately phoney and exploitative. If it were true that not anywhere near as many people would have watched a documentary as they did a fictionalisation, then did that also mean the facts were being fudged in favour of entertainment?

Alarm bells should have gone off when the film refused to name the country this tragedy was taking place in: what were they so reticent about? Were we meant to believe this was Africa all over, and it was merely a land of violent savages and innocents corrupted? Yes, it's a continent that has its issues, but it's not as if every nation there is trapped in civil war, yet this effort would have us believe the picture it painted of the region was accurate when in many cases it was not. The author of the novel it was based on is Nigerian, but the only mention we heard of Nigeria was that some (adult) soldiers featured came from there, not that this hellhole we were seeing was that location on the map. It was a very Western view of Africa.

Or rather a view that promoted Africans as violent and undisciplined, no, not helped by massacres reported in the news, but with a fear of them that fed into an anti-immigration stance Hollywood was only too happy to boost. If you watch films made by actual Africans, yes, they can be cynical, but they have the benefit of knowing the environment they speak of, so they can be positive too; here the most powerful character was the gun-toting, sexually abusing, off his rocker Commandant played by Idris Elba putting on a generic accent, and it is he you would take away from this, unless Attah had stolen your heart (and he was effective given what he had to do). But again, there was that tone that troubled, that pat on the back for sitting through the horrors of war as if that was all that was necessary to keep up to speed with current events. Nothing about solving this problem, merely a "Well done! Now watch some fluff to come down." Mind you, True Detective was overrated as well. Music by Dan Romer.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with the following features:

2K digital master, approved by director Cary Joji Fukunaga, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New audio commentary featuring Fukunaga and first assistant director Jon Mallard
New documentary on the development and making of the film, featuring interviews with Fukunaga; author Uzodinma Iweala; actors Idris Elba and Abraham Attah; and producers Amy Kaufman, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, and Riva Marker
New conversation between Fukunaga and film and television producer and cultural commentator Franklin Leonard
New interview with costume designer Jenny Eagan
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
English descriptive audio
PLUS: An essay by film critic Robert Daniels.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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