Beasts of no nation

A tale of civil war in West Africa begins by painting a picture of an average family unit somewhere in West Africa. There are the expected references to rebel forces, the government army and peacekeepers aptly named ECOMOD — an obvious riff on ECOMOG. The film is shot in Ghana and the languages spoken are Twi, and English.

Look out for imagination TV — a nod to the inventiveness of African children at play.

The first few scenes portray daily life. The father, a teacher, gives land to refugees who pour into his village, fleeing a conflict zone. The mother, backbone and glue of the family, exudes quiet strength. The casting team gets high marks for selecting Ama K. Abebrese to play this role. Strength and quiet assurance. She is perfect! The boys of the family fight and play as do boys all over the world. Agu torments his big brother. He is mischievous and full of life.

This somewhat mundane family life is bound to be disrupted in the near future. The calm before the storm. That’s the mood set by Cary Fukunaga, film director.

There is a scene where the village gathers at a church. The chief holds court to discuss the civil war brewing on the horizon which threatens to overtake the village. The fear is palpable.

Fast forward to scenes where Agu finds himself scavenging for food in the jungle, where he becomes a child soldier.

There is nothing new about the storyline. A civil war breaks out for whatever reason. Families get dislocated. Terrible things happen. An innocent child becomes a soldier, does and sees things no one should do or see. There is a somewhat hopeful denouement at the end. Do not expect to learn anything new about child soldiers in this movie. It is actually quite simplistic.

What’s new or perhaps endearing is the lush cinematography applied to such a harrowing subject matter and the exploration of civil war from a child’s point of view.

The viewer experiences war and a voyage across West African landscape through the eyes of Agu. Everything from the camera angles, movement and the acting is carefully choreographed to plunge the viewer into Agu’s soul. The changes he experiences : innocence, sorrow and hope.

The casting team scored a jackpot with Abraham Attah who plays Agu. He is easily the breakout star of ‘Beasts of no nation’. His background story is quite remarkable too. This is his first film and he handled it like a pro. His sensitive performance, the transformation from a mischievous kid to a killer and the range of emotions is guaranteed to draw and keep the most demanding viewer’s attention.

Here is a very good article on how the casting director found Abraham Attah: The Real Star of 'Beasts of No Nation' is Abraham Attah - and the Casting Director Who Found Him.

Idris Elba will gain new fans with his Oscar worthy performance of a warlord, too in love with war to see the pointlessness of it all. Netflix certainly scored a coup with the first film to premiere on the streaming service.