(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Agu, a boy of about thirteen in an unnamed African country at war, is caught between battling armies and forced to take on the duties and responsibilities of an adult soldier. He is made to see nightmare happenings and to kill under orders. Cary Joji Fukunaga adapted, filmed, and directed Uzodinma Iweala's novel following the horrendous life of children made into killers. He is forced to become a weapon for people whom he does not understand. This is a disturbing film that you will not forget soon as much as you may want to. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Warning: Mild plot spoilers

Wikipedia estimates that there are 300,000 child soldiers worldwide and perhaps 120,000 of them are in Africa. Africa is where the number of child soldiers is growing fastest. BEASTS OF NO NATION is what appears to be a realistic look at what life is like for one boy forced to fight in a civil war.

Agu (played by Abraham Attah) is about thirteen years old and living in an African country torn by a civil war with several different factions fighting each other. His life had been fairly comfortable--more so after the war closed the schools--until his small village became a battleground for two warring factions each of whom see being neutral as one more flavor of being the enemy. In the chaos his family is split up. He and his brother are on their own trying to survive and to rendezvous with their mother. The brother does not live to get very far and Agu is left to shift for himself.

Agu is indoctrinated with drugs and strange mystical ceremonies. To get him to fight when he sees the enemy he is told that "these are the ones who killed your father." He is taught how to kill with a machete and forced by the Commandant (Idris Elba) to actually do it. Unable to resist the mind control of his captors, he consoles himself that at least in killing he is doing the right thing. Agu, robbed of his childhood, is forced to do as much and perhaps more than an adult soldier would have to.

The film is structured, at least superficially, like Steven Spielberg's EMPIRE OF THE SUN. The main character starts with a pleasant lifestyle but goes to having war rip his family apart. The fall of Agu's village is much like a small-scale version of Spielberg's Fall of Shanghai. Each boy is on his own and learns to live in a world alien to what he is used to. He makes a different set of friends and acquires mentors who are less than totally savory just as in EMPIRE. However, it was Spielberg's style, as we might expect, to have his main character triumph over the situation, but Agu never finds much to feel very positive about. And that is the more realistic storytelling. The boy in each film ages very quickly during wartime. The best of the writing in BEASTS OF NO NATION shows up near the end of the film when the commandant tells his men about the alternatives to the combative life style he has chosen.

BEASTS OF NO NATION is largely in English or subtitled for the unnamed language of the unknown African country where the story is set. I would rate this film a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper