Beasts of No Na­tion

BEASTS OF NO NA­TION, drama, not rated, Vi­o­let Crown, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Beasts of No Na­tion be­gins with Agu’s (Abra­ham At­tah) boy­ish schemes to make money and his hi­lar­i­ous pranks with his older brother — all of this is al­most too charm­ing, so you just know the hap­pi­ness won’t last. Agu’s un­named West African coun­try is in the midst of civil war, but he tells us his town is safe be­cause Nige­rian sol­diers are pro­tect­ing it. Civil war, how­ever, is about as easy to con­tain as a midsummer for­est fire. Soon, Agu’s fa­ther and older brother must stay in town to pro­tect their land while his mother and younger sib­lings are packed off to the city. Agu is left be­hind only be­cause there’s no room for him in the taxi.

In a scene that is at once sear­ing and mat­ter-of-fact, gov­ern­ment forces shoot down Agu’s fa­ther and brother while Agu flees into the jun­gle. There he is cap­tured by rebels and trained to be­come a child soldier. At first, a deputy tells the war­lord Com­man­dant (Idris Elba) that Agu is only a boy, but the Com­man­dant dis­agrees: Agu has hands and fin­gers with which to pull a trig­ger. Agu will use his hands for much more in this riv­et­ing film. The son of a car­ing school­teacher, Agu is now in­doc­tri­nated to be a killer. The Com­man­dant tells Agu he will be a leader one day and he is like a son to him, but these are only words. Agu replies that he is a fol­lower — and that’s the truth.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion, re­cruit­ing chil­dren for armed con­flict is com­pa­ra­ble to slav­ery and pros­ti­tu­tion. Child sol­diers are re­cruited pre­cisely be­cause they are vul­ner­a­ble. When they are sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, not to men­tion hun­gry, con­fused, and an­gry, prom­ises to give them shel­ter and to avenge the death of their fam­ily mem­bers are used to en­snare — and even­tu­ally to ex­ploit — these chil­dren. Agu’s Com­man­dant breaks with the rebels’ po­lit­i­cal head and runs out of re­sources for his unit, but he still makes fun of his young sol­diers when they try to leave. He taunts them that they will be tried for war crimes, or they will find them­selves stand­ing in un­bear­ably long un­em­ploy­ment lines.

Agu meets a bet­ter end in this film than many child sol­diers do. De­spite the painful back­drop of war, di­rec­tor Cary Fuku­naga (True De­tec­tive) shapes Uzod­inma Iweala’s novel into a pow­er­ful film with high pro­duc­tion val­ues. Agu gives a nat­u­ral­is­tic per­for­mance, a nice foil to the Com­man­dant’s larger-than-life per­sona. Be­fore Agu’s mother left in a taxi­cab for the city, she told him to pray ev­ery­day. As a sea­soned child soldier, in a lyri­cal voiceover Agu tells his mother that he’ll stop speak­ing to God, be­cause he’s not sure if God is lis­ten­ing, but he’ll speak to her in­stead. Ac­cord­ing to Agu, he wants to “cover up the sun” so there will be no light to see the dark things that go on dur­ing war. Beasts of No Na­tion, thank­fully, lights up the machi­na­tions of war and the lives of Agu and the es­ti­mated quar­ter mil­lion child sol­diers world­wide. — Priyanka Ku­mar

Com­ing of age: Abra­ham At­tah and Idris Elba

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