TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2015: Fukunaga's 'Beasts of No Nation' is a Tremendous Film
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2015
Cary Fukunaga. If you don't know that name yet, now is the time to learn it. Cary Fukunaga is a filmmaker who previously directed Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, "True Detective" (Season 1), and most recently, Beasts of No Nation. His latest is Netflix's first "Netflix Original Film" release but it just premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, where I was lucky enough to catch it on the big screen (which I highly recommend despite its availability on Netflix). Beasts of No Nation is a spectacular experience, telling an intimate, powerful story with extraordinary scope about a young African boy trained to be a guerrilla fighter. The film totally blew me away, it's a masterful work of cinema. One of Fukunaga's major achievements in cinematic storytelling.
Beasts of No Nation is indeed set in an unidentified African nation, and begins in a peaceful village. Soon war takes over the country, dividing its citizens, many of whom have no interest in fighting. Agu, a smart youngster, is suddenly thrust into the hellish world of war. His family is killed, and he runs away into the forest in hopes of surviving where he is discovered and scooped up by a commander of a guerrilla fighting group. Over the course of two hours, we watch and learn as he's trained to kill, growing in skill as a fighter. He also still maintains his humanity, and despite killing for his own survival, he despises it. It's an epic saga, told in both English and their native language, showing how brutal and horrible these wars are in Africa.
The reason Cary Fukunaga deserves all the acclaim, aside from having sole credit for writing and directing this exceptional film, is just how unbelievably real it all felt. There are some action scenes, where they attack villages, ambush caravans, and come under heavy fire, that are vastly better than most action scenes coming out of Hollywood. The complex choreography of the action, the impressive sound design, the special effects make-up, the practical effects, the stunts, the cinematography capturing everything, the performances, the extras. All of it coalesces to create extremely visceral, violent moments that left me in awe. The same kind of awe that I felt watching the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan for the first time. It's that extraordinary.
The score, the pacing, so many great actors, all the costumes, the story, all of it worked together so well. I often found my heart would start racing during many tense scenes and wouldn't slow down until the film itself slows down for just a moment. It's long – 133 minutes – covering lots of ground, subtly examining all the angles of war and taking one character through hell and back. Abraham Attah plays Agu, that one character, and he's beyond outstanding. Idris Elba plays the commander, and he's also fantastic. The film wouldn't have been this good if these two, and all the other actors, weren't as astounding as they are in this.
At this point, the only thing I must keep saying is how phenomenal this film is. My friend Sasha Stone calls it a "masterpiece", and I agree. Fukunaga seems to be getting better and better every project he works on, this time showing that he has truly mastered the art of intimate, vibrant, powerful storytelling on the big screen. And to think that his career is still just starting, it's remarkable. Beasts of No Nation is one of my favorite films of the year, an experience I won't soon forget, and I don't think anyone who sees it will either. Prepare to be blown away. Or perhaps it's best to just go see this, in a movie theater, without knowing much about it beforehand. Then you'll really feel the power of great filmmaking. Netflix is about to make a dent.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 10 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing