This powerful film, written and directed by the man behind the first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” made a brief run in theaters, but is now available for viewing on Netflix. After seeing it on lists of possible Oscar contenders, I decided to take a look, even though I knew the subject would be rough going.
Set in an unnamed country (think: Sierra Leone), “Beasts of No Nation” begins with a young boy (a never-before actor from Ghana who’s terrific) who’s enjoying being a kid, playing with his pals, going to church with his parents and brother, gathering around the family dinner, such as it is when you’re poor and living in an Army occupied territory. He’s happy until full-on war breaks out. Suddenly, his mother is forced to flee, his father and brother are killed and he’s all alone in a place where he no longer belongs.
He’s soon recruited into another kind of army, a group of rebel native fighters led by their “commandant,” played by the great British actor Idris Elba. The boy is taught to fight, taught to slaughter, taught to obey, taught to take drugs, and it’s fascinating and painful to watch him go from playful child to brutal criminal.
Suffice is to say that child murderers are being recruited all the time in countries like the one portrayed here, and we’d rather bury our heads in the sand than face the truth of the situation. This movie forces us to pay attention. As I said at the top, it makes for rough going. It’s especially rough going in light of what happened in Paris the other night. Terrorism is terrorism wherever it rears its head, and “Beasts of No Nation” takes it head on.