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TIFF Review: Beasts of No Nation

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In a Western African country a delinquent boy has life torn apart by a civil war which results in him becoming a child soldier in a rebel army.

Unlike his father who is determined to help refugees, Agu (Abraham Attah) seeks to earn money unethically and engages in delinquent activities with his friends.  This ideal existence is thrown into chaos by a military coup igniting a bloody civil war.  After witnessing his friends and family being executed, the Western African boy flees into the jungle where he is captured by a rebel group.  In order to survive in his new surroundings, Agu trains to become a child soldier under the watchful eye of the Commandant (Idris Elba).

A great deal of creativity is on the display with the opening act which makes the mischievous Agu an endearing character such as with the antics revolving around the ‘imagination TV’ and performing rap music; this is a critical accomplishment because the whole story is built upon the audience being concerned as to whether he will be able to survive.   It is a credit to newcomer Abraham Attah who is able to believably convey brashness and childishness.  Another key cast member is Idris Elba (Prometheus, Luther) who portrays the Commandant with a swagger that is a combination of rock star and father figure.

The imagery is visually stunning which is not surprising as filmmaker Cary Fukunaga also the directed the first season of True Detective.  The colour pallet makes use of tones that evokes a constant shift between reality and a dream-like state.  Symbolism takes place, like when Abu participates in his first battle the green leaves of the jungle turn red to reflect a particular state of mind.  A fair amount of research has been conducted to ensure what appears on the screen is authentic such as slashing the eyelids of the child soldiers with a razor and inserting cocaine into them.  Beasts of No Nation carries on the tradition of movies like Cry Freedom and Hotel Rwanda by the exploring the cruelty that people are prepared to inflict upon each other without losing a sense of humanity.

 

4-out-of-5

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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