What Is The Point Of War?
Behind the impressive cinematography, visceral imagery and enthralling plot, Beasts Of No Nation is simply a film about the pointlessness of war. At a little over 2 hours, this war drama could easily have outstayed its welcome but for two big performances that drive the narrative forward. Idris Elba plays the manipulative Commandant and Abraham Attu is the young boy Agu and together these two are the focal points in this film. Although there are moments where Beasts falls into a bit of a lull, thankfully these moments are fleeting in what’s otherwise an impressive film.
Beasts Of No Nation takes place in a fictional West African country that finds itself ravaged by civil war. Caught in the crossfire between the rebels and government, Agu and his family struggle to escape before war lands on their doorstep. What follows is a devastating, brutal ordeal for Agu as he tries to survive only to wind up in the company of the rebels. Once there, the film really takes off and begins exploring one of the key themes of the film – the point of war. Throughout, Agu and the other men fight for their cause, following the charismatic, unstable Commandant into battle. Beasts also explores the aftermath and consequence of war and its here that interesting, thought provocative questions are raised. The narrative is good too although the ambient soundtrack accompanying the film gives the brutal and aggressively charged scenes a more laid back, passive feel to them than it should.
Whilst Beasts Of No Nation might not do anything particularly innovative or groundbreaking with its plot, it excels in the cinematography. Exhausting, one shot camera movements dominate much of the picture and one particular scene inside a building boasts around 3 or 4 minutes of continuous camera movement with no cuts while the rebels explore and loot the area. It’s a little touch but one that adds an extra dimension of intelligence to this film. There are loads of examples like this in Beasts and the artistic flair inherent with this film helps it stand out from other war films released in recent memory.
Aside from the excellent camera work, characterisation and development between the two lead characters, Beasts Of No Nation features a strong, thematic message that bleeds into every aspect of the film. Whilst other war titles explore questions around the pointless nature of war, Beasts Of No Nation relies heavily on this to really drive home the message. Telling this through the eyes of a small child is the perfect narrative platform to avoid the message feeling contrived too and seeing Agu evolve from an innocent, frail boy to a battle-hardened, easily influenced fighter feels like a natural progression.
Beasts Of No Nation is one of the better war films to be released recently. Thematically strong and thought provocative throughout, this war film is as intelligently written as it is brutally depicted. The mix of action and drama works well but the film largely rests on the absorbing performances from the two lead characters. Their chemistry shines and stands out in what’s still a very strong war film, even without this. It might not be perfect but Beasts Of No Nation is a great film and well worth watching.