Movie Review: Beast Of No Nation By, Okwudili Nebeolisa

A scene from the movie, Beast of No Nation

By Okwudili Nebeolisa
When I’d first heard that Uzodinma Iweala’s award winning debut would be adapted into a movie, I was glad that yet another good ‘Nigerian’ novel would get to the big screen. With a sufficient budget and a good director as the youthful Cary Fukunaga, it was sure to be something that would spark conversations in the film industry.
This feeling of expectations gripped me when, on beginning the movie, I heard the main character Agu (Abraham Attah) narrate: “our country is at war and we are having no more school, so we are having to be finding ways to be keeping busy.”  I braced myself up for an African kind of war. A war which ravages everything, separates him from his mum and youner sister, kills his brother and father and then leads him into the hands of the rebel army as he searches for safety.
Agu comes from clan that threw out the other clan that is supposedly invading the nation. The plot opens up in an unexplained and frenzied manner. There isn’t time for explanations about how the war started, what could have sparked it. I guess that is what you get when a story is told from the point of an unreliable narrator. For a very fleeting period in an unstated land in West Africa, we plunge into a time of war with the rebels.
Agu is orphaned, like in most child-rebel stories I know. It is in his search for survival in a forest that he is conscripted into the rebel army and here we meet the character of Commandant (Idris Elba). His role is rendered expertly, though the accent Idris has trained himself to pick, like any black American who is made to play the role of a typical African, is kind of funny, but is worth the effort. The Commandant, brimming with equal amounts of gore and humour, bravery and cowardice, leads these young rebels through a thorough recruitment exercise to make them believe they are now the real men, even empowers them with the darkest forms of black magic.
BONN easily covers the darkest sides of Africa without it being a clichéd register-of-the-sort of Africa’s problems. But then the boys easily become killers, they defile women, commit atrocities that are known of child soldiers who have just been randomly taught the wrongest ideas about violence.
I can’t say if this is a fault of the novel or of the film or both because all (or virtually much of what) I can see is Agu. I was so immersed in him that I could hardly see any of the other characters, not even his fellow rebel and closest friend, Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye) except for maybe the Commandant. Agu finds favour with Commandant to stamp his leading role in the movie.
Cary Fukunaga, who tripled as the film’s director, screenwriter, and cinematographer, carefully rendered this gripping movie and this offering is a good tribute to Uzodinma’s novel. In the end the movie felt like a detail of several rebel accounts, especially child soldiers in this case. There were striking similarities in story with the Canadian drama directed by Kim Nguyen, but in this case the principal character was a young woman.
Despite the expert portrayal of the movie, I’m not sure what this movie aims to project in the eye of the white person for be it as it may, it was made to mainly serve a white audience.
Regardless of being shot somewhere in Ghana, it first showed in Western theatres in the UK and US. The only moments of respite are in the beginning, and then one is led through scene after scene of gory acts by the rebels. So this movie is not sure what it is aimed at projecting to the world. It is a war-torn Africa, especially when the movie isn’t set in anywhere in Africa, it might as well be everywhere in Africa. Its capabilities of showing a better side is very little or of no consequence. It empathises with no one, nothing. There is nothing at its heart, despite it being well carried out.
This is not to say that the movie exaggerated  the evils in Africa, but when the balance of good and evil is not set, a stereotype is created, as it occurs in every case. Nevertheless this movie stands as one of my best movies of this year and I won’t be surprised when it starts clenching accolades when the time comes.
But there seems to be some grace in the end when the rebels surrender to ECOMOG soldiers and are taken to a rehabilitation camp where they experience real, normal lives. Somewhere close to the end, Agu sums it all up when he says to himself, “The only way not to be fighting in  anymore is to be dying… bullets is just eating everything,” as they wander from place to place, looking for shelter.
Okwudili Nebeolisa is a Nigerian writer whose works have appeared in Ambit Magazine, Word Riot, Jalada Magazine, Saraba Magazine, Raedleaf’s African Poetry Folio, The New Black Magazine, and elsewhere. He won the
inaugural Jalada Prize in the poetry category and 3rd place in the 2011 Asian International Writing Competition in the poetry category.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author


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