January 22, 2016

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Idris Elba

Years ago, I unwittingly took a political writing class in college. I thought it was a creative writing class. Instead the professor was a member of Amnesty International and we spent every class reading about human rights violations--child soldiers, female genitalia mutilation, you name it. It was brutal. Not because those things are terribly important to learn about, but because I have a reflex that forces me to become numb to atrocities if exposed to them for long period of time. There are only so many stories about 8 year girls having their clitorises sawed off with rusty knives while they scream before your eyes glaze over. 

This movie is like that. It's horrifying. In a good way, of course, It highlights the horrors of war, child soldiers, rape, and I'm sure a number of other things I blocked out five minutes after the movie ended. In all seriousness, living through a civil war and its repercussions is something the vast majority of us have no experience with. We really can't fathom how devastating it is and how bleak and hopeless everyday life is, all the while watching everyone around you die. This movie effectively captures both the broad strokes and the minutia of this all-too-common story, showing it through the eyes of a child. It takes a story that is very hard to stomach and breaks it down into a smaller, more manageable piece by personalizing it to one specific boy.

And that is what makes the movie so good. The entire movie hinges on the acting ability of a child actor, which is always risky. But this kid is up to the challenge. He is what Hushpuppy was to Beasts of the Southern Wild, except this movie is a lot better overall. Between the kid and Idris Elba (who was ROBBED of a Golden Globe, BTW), it almost doesn't matter that the movie is slow. Then again, I don't always mind slow. Beasts of No Nation reminded me of one of my favorite movies, The New World, with its long sequences with no dialogue a hushed narrator. I like the introspective vibe of it. Sometimes, the lack of action makes more of an impact than explosions or killings via machete (though there was plenty of that as well).

Now, I don't want to turn every movie review into a political rant, but I will say that I think this movie should be required watching for anyone lacking in sympathy toward the current plight of Syrian refugees. This is the type of movie people dread watching because it seems heavy and educational--and it is, on both counts. It's perfect awards season bait because if it weren't nominated, it probably wouldn't get very much exposure because of the onerous subject matter. But you know what? It was nominated. And that made me watch it. And I'm glad I did. Now excuse me while I go tweet about how ridiculous it was that Elba didn't get an Oscar nomination for this. I guess the Academy figured Forest Whitaker winning for playing a scary African dictator covered them for all similar roles in the future.

Final word: Not the most original story, but still makes an impact.

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