An East Coast movie maven I’m vaguely acquainted with has passed along a purported response to a research screening of Cary Fukanaga‘s Beasts of No Nation (Bleecker/Netflix, 10.16), which will screen next month at the Venice and Toronto film festivals (and perhaps also at Telluride). Pic is basically about a young African kid, Agu (Abraham Attah), being turned into a monster by the horrors of fighting a mercenary war. Idris Elba is the only marquee name although his character, a fiendish warlord called “Commandant”, is supporting. Everything is bunk until proven otherwise, so take these condensed and edited words with a grain of salt:
“I couldn’t heap enough praise on it as it stands now,” says a Research Screening Guy With No Name. “The film is powerful throughout, although it has some genuinely very funny moments in the beginning before we embark on Agu’s harrowing journey. Fukunaga really got great performances from all the non-actors. Attah is charming, heartbreaking, sometimes terrifying. Strika (not sure of the actor’s name because we had to fill out questionnaires as soon as the credits started rolling) is one of the most fascinating younger roles I’ve seen in a while. Elba is definitely supporting in every way, but he looms so large over the film. Definitely his best work, in my opinion.
“The relationship between Agu and Elba’s Commandant reminded me of the dynamic between DiCaprio/Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York, although I think both performances and the film as whole are a lot stronger. The violence in the film is maybe analogous to Waltz with Bashir‘s real-life footage just because of how unnerving, intense and legitimately difficult the more graphic scenes are. [But] the more graphically violent scenes come in bursts and don’t weigh down the film in any way. I would also compare it favorably to the action/violence City of God. I wouldn’t call it an inspirational film, but I definitely felt the ending was hopeful.”
In a 7.30 piece called “A Boy Embraces Evil, Brutality, Sadism,” I wrote that “if Fukunaga’s script cleaves to Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 source novel, it’s going to be one horror after another. Looting, random rape, machete killings of non-combatants, forced sexual servitude on Agu’s part, unsanitary conditions, starvation…you name it.
“I’m sure that the much-respected Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, season #1 of True Detective) has shot the hell out of Beasts and that critics will exclaim how devastating and powerful it is. But where can this go? How can it surprise?”
Soon after this posted a fellow who may or may not have seen Beasts replied as follows: “The answer to your question of ‘how can it surprise?’ is that IT CAN’T. Unless they’ve fixed it, which I seriously doubt.”