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'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.

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