Marking the first Netflix original feature film, Beasts of No Nation tells that tale of a young villager named Agu, who is torn apart from his family to become a child soldier. Fukunaga is very careful about never naming the country that the film takes place in, but he does not hold back from attempting to make a statement here. Having heard that the source material was astonishingly violent and disturbing, it was surprising to see just how tame the violence was here. Fukunaga makes a point of cutting away from a violent act right before it happens. This choice does not allow for the audience to soak up the grotesque acts that these child soldiers are committing. Even if Fukunaga kept the cutaways when a child commits an act of violence, at least show your viewers how these children are dealing with what they are doing.
Fukunaga not only took the job of directing the film, but he also adapted the book into a screenplay, along with shooting the entire film. The landscapes that Fukunaga photographs here look like something that you would see from of a Call of Duty map. On top of it all, Fukunaga’s color palette is incredibly bland. The only real impressive moment in terms of cinematography throughout the course of Beasts of No Nation is an incredibly extensive long take following Agu. Not only is the tracking shot impressive from a technical standpoint, but it is also one of the very few moments in the film that showcases what becoming a child soldier has brought upon Fukunaga’s protagonist.
The narration from Agu is never utilized properly to carry on any effect. It’s far too sporadic. Fukunaga uses it to tell the audience something major rather than showing it onscreen. The narration felt like a last resort for Fukunaga. He either should have made it more prevalent throughout or go without it. The random occurrences of narration every twenty to thirty minutes comes off awkward and out of place. Another questionable factor is how the dialects become increasingly less prevalent throughout the film. The dialects start out especially strong, but quickly begin to die down.
The fact that the majority of people will see Beasts of No Nation at home does not do the film any favors. Something like Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight would make much more sense premiering on Netflix rather than a war film. The majority of the positive attributes to Beasts of No Nation all have to do with the technical precision that will not be as noticeable and effective on a computer screen. Fukunaga never glorifies in the violent nature that you would expect from a film about child soldiers, but he sure does revel in the scenes of combat. The scenes of combat fail to grab the viewer since these scenes of combat just involve characters running around trying to escape from peril.
For a film that is almost two and a half hours, Fukunaga hardly tackles any major themes throughout his extensive runtime. Fukunaga mainly focuses on leadership here, but he does not give the audience a clear look into how these child soldiers descend into evil. In a blink of an eye, Agu has become a ruthless killer who will point his gun at anyone that his commandant (Idris Elba) tells him to, even if these people come in peace. For a film that runs for almost two and a half hours, there should be more than two scenes that portray Agu’s decline into evil. Idris Elba’s character delivers a handful of speeches throughout the course of the film. These speeches come off like he is a high school football coach that is delivering a speech to his players before their game. These abysmally-written speeches are delivered in such an artificial manner that you can not help but question who wrote this dreadful screenplay. He gathers up his soldiers and gives an incredibly long-winded speech that amounts to almost nothing.
Fukunaga never gives the audience a second to digest what he has just presented his viewers with since he just moves onto the next thing immediately. The fact that Fukunaga just goes from one thing to next not only prevents the audience from digesting each scene but it also never allows for the viewers to emotionally connect with our protagonist. This is a major problem when your protagonist is an eight-year-old child soldier who was torn apart from his family earlier in the film. It is apparent that Fukunaga had zero clue whatsoever of how to wrap his film up. In a matter of minutes, Fukunaga lazily attempts to tie off some of the many loose ends and presents the audience with an incredibly unfulfilling ending.