Beasts of No Nation (2015)

(Netflix Streaming, August 2016) Netflix’s new role as an original movie distributor starts with a bang with Beasts of No Nation, an uncompromising film that not only suggests Netflix’s good eye for content, but also a willingness to support material that otherwise wouldn’t get much visibility in today’s megaplex-spectacle context. Beasts of no Nation certainly isn’t a traditional crowd pleaser: Focusing on the plight of a (very) young man recruited into an army of children during an African civil war, it’s a film that hits hard, stares where others don’t like to watch and offers no easy conclusions. Bloodshed, abuse and madness abound, while writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga doesn’t flinch in presenting his material. Beasts of No Nation benefits from a pair of exceptional performances: Abraham Attah as the young Agu, our viewpoint character, and Idris Elba as the cult-like commander of his army. The African scenery is gorgeously showcased, and the film does have a cinematic quality that may not have been expected from a streaming release. The footnote of Beast of No Nation in movie history is assured: Once Netflix picked it up and promised simultaneous availability online, most American theatre chains struck back by refusing to play it on the big screen. The joke, within a few years, will be on them. In the meantime, Netflix has done well for itself and the film by ensuring Beasts of No Nation publicity and distribution. It’s the kind of move that suggests a slightly brighter future for cinema, as more complex viewing experiences can be made viable through streaming platforms.

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