The Collective Bloggers love a good binge watch and so we present to you “Netflix and Chill”, a series in which our newest collected contributor,Ardeospina, binge watches a Netflix Original show, let’s us know her thoughts and whether or not we should put in the time. I am excited for this series of reviews, because I’ve been wanting to watch a bunch of these shows and films, but I like to get an opinion first, before committing. Below isArdeospina’s SPOILER FREE review. Enjoy and let us know whether you plan to watch or, if you already have, your thoughts on the show’s bingeworthiness in the comments below.
Beasts of No Nation Review: “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga of “True Detective” fame, “Beasts of No Nation” is the story of Agu, a young African boy forced to become a child soldier after his family is torn apart by civil war. If that sounds horrifying to you, good. It’s supposed to be horrifying. It’s supposed to be shocking. It’s supposed to be an isolated incident, but it’s depressingly common. It’s a very intense, important film.
One of the things this film does extremely well is it doesn’t shy away from letting the viewer be confused about what’s happening. That may sound like a strange thing to compliment because generally creators don’t want audiences confused. The story itself isn’t the confusing part. That’s laid out very well. What I mean when I say the film lets its audience be confused is it very deliberately just does not explain certain aspects of the world around Agu. For example, we are never told what country the film is set in. It could be any number of African countries. When Agu is pressed into service, we know the name of the group he’s fighting for, The NDF, but we have no idea if they have any allies, if they are a powerful force within the country, or even if they have more soldiers than the ones we see. In some of the battle scenes, it’s almost impossible to tell which side is which. This works for the film because it shows just how manic and confusing it is for the people living through this kind of modern-day civil war. How can you live your life in a place where you can’t even tell who’s going to protect you and who’s going to shoot you on sight?
Visually, the film is stunning. The African landscapes are lush, the panoramic views are incredible, and even the war-torn villages and cities look incredible in their own way. It’s cinematic through and through, which is an interesting choice for such a dark subject, but it heightens the disconnect between the horrible things happening in such a beautiful place. It reminds me of when I visited Auschwitz, the definition of hell on earth, on the most beautiful summer day you can imagine. Really. It was 74 and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze blowing. And I found myself thinking again and again that this place, this evil, abhorrent place, should only ever be gray and dark and rainy and cold. It didn’t deserve the sun. And if I felt like that, what must the prisoners felt on the beautiful days? I got the same sort of feeling watching this movie. It looks like a paradise, but scratch the surface and there’s hell underneath.
The problem with that sort of sweeping visual style is you can go too far and create a sort of detachment for the viewer and lose some of the emotional punch. I think that happens at times in this movie. The moments that should bring the audience to its knees just don’t really fully land. Close, but not quite. That’s in part due to the directing and visual style, but I think it’s also in part due to the acting. Aside from Idris Elba, who is magnetic as the NDF Commandant responsible for Agu’s transformation into child soldier, the rest of the cast just isn’t quite up to snuff. It’s always difficult to have a child actor carry a film because they often just don’t have the life experience to turn in a truly great performance, and that does happen here. That’s not to say Abraham Attah, the newcomer who plays Agu, is bad. Far from it. He’s pretty good. But this film needs brilliant, and it definitely suffers when Elba isn’t around.
Should I Binge It?
Not really applicable since this is a movie and only two and a quarter hours long, but definitely watch it in one sitting.
Will I Wonder Why It Didn’t Get Any Oscar Nominations?
You’ll wonder why Idris Elba didn’t get nominated, that’s for damn sure. I suspect it has something to do with the Netflix release. (I’m going to purposefully be a bit naive and hope it’s not because Elba is black.) Hopefully the Academy, like the Emmys, will realize that quality is quality no matter where it’s found. At least the SAG awards got it right.
Will I Need My Reading Glasses?
Yes! There are some subtitles to read. The film is both in English and an African language, though I don’t know which one.
Will I Be Thankful I Don’t Live In A Country Currently Fighting A Civil War?
Yes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. And if you’re reading this in a country that IS fighting a civil war, I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine. Stay safe.
Ardeospina is a stay-at-home mom with two young children, a new house, and a knitting obsession. She loves binge watching TV shows and collecting yarn and IKEA storage furniture. You can find her on Twitter @Ardeospina, and if she’s not there, you can leave a message at the beep.