Beasts of No Nation is one of the year's best films
Netflix' first theatrical release, directed by East Bay native Cary Fukunaga, deserves to be seen on a big screen
Cary Joji Fukunaga's new film Beasts of No Nation is a spectacular, horrifying, and ultimately uplifting adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala's acclaimed 2006 novel about a "good boy from a good family" who is recruited as a child soldier in an unnamed African nation. The film hits theaters today in Berkeley, Menlo Park, and San Francisco, while also available on Netflix' streaming service—in fact, it's the Silicon Valley entertainment giant's first simultaneous theatrical/streaming release.
I had a chance to see an early screening of the film so I could interview Fukunaga for an upcoming Diablo story, and without a doubt, Beasts of No Nation is worth seeing in a theater, on the biggest screen. Fukunaga agrees: "We made the film to be seen in theaters, and of course that's the way I would prefer people see it," Fukunaga says. "But I realize many people will watch it on Netflix, because that's easier. Even members of my own family—I keep inviting them to early screenings, and they say, 'Sorry, we missed it, but its OK, we'll just watch it on Netflix.' And I say, 'I don't want you to wait for Netflix! You're in my family! You need to come see it in a theater!"
In addition to writing the screenplay and directing the film, Fukunaga served as director of photography, and the movie is stunning on a big screen. Fukunaga, best known for directing season one of HBO's True Detective, shot Beasts of No Nation in Ghana; he fills the screen with a balance of beautiful and horrifying images. This is one film that plays much better without the luxury of a pause button: The narrative becomes increasingly intense as we meet Agu, a "good boy from a good family" in a poor but peaceful town, civil war rips apart Agu's town and separates the boy from his family. The intensity ratchets as Agu (Abraham Attah, in a mesmerizing debut performance) is captured and indoctrinated as a child soldier, and becomes a favorite of The Commandant (an Oscar-worthy turn by the great Idris Elba, personifying a kind of humanized evil that's both chilling and heartbreaking).
I'm looking forward to telling you more about Fukunaga in an upcoming issue of Diablo, but for now I can tell you that his newest work, Beasts of No Nation is a great, great film. It hits theaters and Netflix today and will certainly place very high on my list of the best movies from 2015.