There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers fighting in various wars
around the world. BEASTS OF NO NATION tells the story of one of them,
a West African kid named Agu. Though the character is fictional-hes
played by Abraham Attah, a 13-year-old first-time actor from Ghana, where
BEASTS was shot-its origins have their roots in a novel by Uzodinma
Iweala, a Nigerian writer/doctor who treated many child soldiers while
serving in Africa for the United Nations, published Beasts of No
Nation in 2005; it won numerous awards and was translated into twelve
languages. Now Cary Joji Fukunaga, a writer/director responsible for such
films as Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre and TVs True Detective, has turned
Iwealas book into a big, bloody, heart-rending movie that will hopefully
shock mankinds conscience into taking action against those generals
and warlords who use children to fight their battles, if only because
they can easily be manipulated and exploited, turned into tiny but ruthless
Agu is something
of a universal child soldier, one who could be anywhere from nine to twelve
years old and hails from a generic African nation. By not having to deal
with specific details, Fukunaga was able to focus on Agus story,
his journey from an ordinary kid, part of a loving family, to orphaned
foot-soldier in a deadly civil war.
Much of BEASTS success can be attributed to Attah and the other
actors, especially Idris Elba, who plays The Commandant, a warlord who
finds Agu in a dark forest (his family having been killed in the civil
war) and takes him under his wing. Elba, who starred in The Wire and the
bio-pic Mandela, turns in a magnetic and memorable performance as the
Commandant, a complex character who is part-father to his AK-47-toting
flock, and part-Fagin.
It was very attractive to tackle a character who is so multi-layered,
said Elba in an interview. The Commandant has multiple agendas.
His short-term goal is to strengthen his small army and take over as much
territory as he can. But he also sees himself as a leader destined for
something more. Hes very regimented and he runs his faction of child
soldiers that way. A lot of it was about exploring the mechanics of leadership,
charisma and respect.
The Commandant does not suffer from any attacks of conscience because
his moral system is the very narrow moral system of war, in which
the ends always trump the means, no matter how cruel. I think if asked,
he would simply justify what he was doing because hes a soldier
and soldiers dont back down till they die-and he believes
he is a very good soldier.
a long, intense, complex movie; there are three different armies in it:
the government army, the rebels and the Kamajors (a primitive, painted
tribe). Theyre all fighting for different things in different ways;
it makes for some confusion, but one thing does emerge clearly from the
fog of war: the disillusionment of both Agu and the Commandant.
The latter, betrayed by his conniving superiors, ends up a deflated, destroyed
man. Agu, though, manages to dig deep within himself, find the strength
and courage to start a new life.