On October 16, Netflix will release its first original movie, a film set in war-torn West Africa that features stunning visual images and a heartbreaking personal narrative.
Beasts of No Nation is the engaging, and often challenging film based on the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala.
Cary Joji Funkunaga spent nearly nine years writing and revising the script, he also serves as producer and director.
Beasts follows the life of Agu, played by Ghanaian-born Abraham Attah, a young boy from an unnamed West African country who, after experiencing the dissolution of his happy family at the hands of the ongoing war, is forced into the life of a child solider.
While most of the film deals with Agu’s progression into an experienced, and deadly, solider, the beginning of the film does its best to incorporate a sense of normalcy into Agu’s childhood.
“There are enough movies that only show conflict in African countries – and it’s rare that you see functionality as well,” said Fukunaga (True Detective, Jane Eyre). “So it was important to me to show that Agu’s family life is, despite the impending crisis, an everyday, happy family life.”
Agu’s progression from innocent child to killer is perhaps the most interesting thing about the film.
“Injecting that sense of love was important to show what Agu loses and also so that when you come full circle to the end of the movie , you can reflect on who he has become,” Fukunaga said.
The film also stars Idris Elba, who plays Commandment, the charismatic and manipulative leader of a group of young soldiers and the man who forces Agu to join his group of rebels.
“The objective is often to numb these children, to detach them from their pain receptors, from their emotions,” Elba said. “It was tough to look at. For the Commandment, part of his approach is also to rile the kids up – to continuously remind them that the government army destroyed their families and villages.”
Many of the scenes feature a young Agu killing or being forced to kill perceived enemies, it’s those uncomfortable images that shine a light on the painful and premature destruction of innocence that child soldiers undergo.
For most of the cast and crew, however, the heartbreaking story wasn’t without purpose.
“I’d love for film audiences to gain what the book gives you: a deeper understanding of how child soldiers have come to be a resource for armies across the world,” Elba said.