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Telluride Review: Beasts of No Nation (★★★★)

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The velocity in which Cary Fukunaga’s star is rising is supersonic. Following his tremendous success with True Detective, the 38-year-old auteur has now delivered a near-masterpiece in Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation.
After 10-year-old Agu – played by Abraham Attah in what might be the breakthrough performance of the year – watches his West African family butchered in a barbarous act, he survives by joining a rebel militia lead by a larger-than-life commander who goes unnamed. The commander is played by the astonishing Idris Elba, whose formidable size is only heightened by his character’s petrifying lack of remorse or pangs of conscience. He runs a jungle army of young boys, training them to be gratuitous killers.
I was reminded of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and how Kurtz must have raised his army of defectors in the same brainwashing fashion. Through mental, physical, and alluded sexual abuse, the commander controls his army on a gruesome rampage – rarely wielding a weapon himself, the puppet master pulling the strings on this nightmarish horror that often makes Fernando Meirelles’ City of God – another brutal film about children and violence – seem like a walk in the park.
The trio of Fukunaga, Elba, and Attah were on hand to present the film, and you could see they were very proud of their work. And rightfully so.
Adapted from the acclaimed Uzodima Iweala novel, Fukunaga wrote, directed, and shot Beasts himself, an audacious cinematic achievement that took him seven years to bring to life. What he has birthed is a rare and provoking film that we are not often privileged to see the likes of. It is the proverbial journey into the heart of darkness, with little or no end in sight for our young Agu from the lawlessly vociferous world.
It will be interesting to see how the Academy handles a Netflix-produced motion picture, but if they can embrace this harrowing film – and Netflix slots Elba into the right category for his awards campaign – we could be looking at our winner for Supporting Actor. Elba’s just that magnificent.
Make no mistake about it, though, this Conradian epic is the young Abraham Attah’s film. Attah’s performance stands toe-to-toe with his menacing counterpart, as the pair delivers the best one-two punch I’ve seen in a long time. Attah is a revelation and a pure joy to watch as the scathing tale unfolds.

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Written by Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Game of Thrones, Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.

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