The hype over Cary Fukunaga's latest project after wowing audiences with directing the complete first season of "True Detective" has been building since word came out that Netflix bought the film and vowed to give it a proper award-season push.
Well, we've seen the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival, and you should believe the hype.
"Beasts of No Nation," (watch the movie on Netflix) written by Fukunaga, is an unforgiving adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala's novel that gives a vivid look inside a faction of the rebels who terrorize West Africa from the eyes of a young boy.
Abraham Attah, who plays the lead character, Agu, is a nonactor who was a street vendor in Ghana before Fukunaga cast him in the movie. The director has found a diamond in the rough, as Attah plays the role with such convincing reality you'd swear he had been in front of the camera for years prior.
In the film, Agu is claimed by the rebel leader (Idris Elba), who goes by "Commandant," after troops kill Agu's father and older brother, and he escapes their wrath. He's then brought into the world of the rebels, being taught the basic salutes and how to fight like the rest of the members. Then comes an initiation ritual that includes being beaten by the rebels, forced to lie in an open grave, and blessed by a shaman.
We then follow Agu as he and his fellow rebels (ranging from grown men to teenage kids his age) kill and pillage villages. In time, Agu becomes the right-hand man of the Commandant.
Elba as the Commandant is a tour-de-force performance as he plays him with intimidation, compassion, and madness. But it's Attah who wows in the movie. This performance from a nonactor is remarkable.
Then there's Fukunaga's direction. (He's also the director of photography on the film.) Having come up with creative visuals his whole career, Fukunaga fills the film with thrilling crane, handheld, and long single shots.
But one striking visual happens during a gruesome attack on a village. All the leaves and foliage turn a shade of red, symbolizing the bloodbath going on. It's these tweaks to the shots' details that have made Fukunaga stand out among his contemporaries.
And there are also less horrific scenes. Like in the beginning of the movie before Agu loses his family. Just another kid in the neighborhood, he walks around with the outer casing of an old square television. Calling it "imagination TV," he tries to sell the set with its unique programming, which includes his friends on the set side of the TV acting out soap operas and Kung-Fu flicks. Fukunaga gets his camera tight on the set to make it look like we are really watching the kids inside an actual set.
The film, Fukunaga, Attah, and Elba all have very good chances of being nominated for Oscars and other year-end awards. But the bigger story will be before the Oscars come, as Netflix will be doing the unprecedented move of releasing the film simultaneously on their streaming service as well as select theaters (out October 16).
If the film finds the attention Netflix is expecting, the company will have changed how movies get released (as Amazon and others will follow suit).
But, if you can, see the movie in a theater. The visuals and sound mix should be enjoyed in a premium setting.
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