News

'Beasts Of No Nation' Makes Festival Rounds– Here's What Critics Are Saying

Critics are praising Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah's performances in the film adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala's 'Beasts of No Nation.'


The highly-anticipated Beasts of No Nation adaptation, Netflix's first original film, premiered yesterday at the Venice Film Festival. Among the reviews starting to roll in, there seems to be a consensus among critics: the faint of heart need not apply.

Of course, if you're familiar with the 2005 Uzodinma Iweala novel on which the film was based, this probably comes as no surprise. The storyline centers on Agu (played by Ghanaian newcomer Abraham Attah), a child soldier descending to unspeakably hellish depths as a bloody guerilla war ravages his nameless West African homeland.

Yet, according to critics, director Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of the novel successfully brings the fictitious, yet true-to-life horrors to life. Perhaps, a bit too successfully for some Western moviegoers' tastes, some argue. As Justin Chang, Variety's Chief Film Critic, writes:

"By turns lucid and a bit logy, and undeniably overlong, it’s nevertheless the rare American movie to enter a distant land and emerge with a sense of lived-in human experience rather than a well-meaning Third World postcard. As such, its aesthetic integrity won’t make its grueling subject matter an easier sell to the mainstream."

The film's length and stamina also appears to be a point of contention, albeit a small one. Fionnuala Halligan, Chief Film Critic at Screen International, writes:

"Full of committed performances, particularly from Elba and the impressive young actor Abraham Attah, Beasts Of No Nation is a project of considerable integrity which makes for a consistently-engrossing, if over-long, viewing experience. It is grim, often harsh and occasionally trips over to nightmarish, Heart of Darkness territory. Like the central character of the Commandant, played so effectively by Elba, it also struggles to hold onto its power throughout."

As for the performances, Idris Elba's masterful execution of his nuanced supporting role as the villainous Commandant, along with Attah's overwhelmingly impressive approach to such mature material, have sparked a steadily growing awards season buzz. Telegraph chief film critic Robbie Collin writes about both actors:

"The film can get so emotionally and spiritually punishing that it needs Elba’s industrial magnetism to keep you on side. And vile as the Commandant may be, he’s a strong showcase for the actor’s talents: while we know he can do both brooding and bombastic in his sleep, it’s hard to think of another one of his roles, other than perhaps DCI John Luther, that blends those two moods together this successfully. Yet ultimately, this is Agu’s story, and it’s the prodigiously talented Attah who gives this pulverising war movie its soul, and offers in its later scenes the flickering prospect of redemption."

Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw also gave kudos to Elba and Attah:

"This is a very powerful and confidently made movie, a film that really puts its audience through the wringer, which finally refuses any palliative gestures, with towering performances from Elba and Attah."

Meanwhile, film critic Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter praised Atttah's delivery in particular, writing:

"How a child actor could be coached to reveal and project the enormous range of reactions and emotions required for the role of Agu is practically unimaginable, but Attah is persuasive and true and constantly interesting to watch as a boy forced to endure extremes of experience to be wished on no one. The film would not have been worth making without a capable kid at its center, and the director found him."

'Beasts of No Nation' will be available on Netflix and in Landmark theaters in 19 markets on October 16.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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