Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Beasts of No Nation

About half a dozen people in the theater last night, which is probably about as good as you can expect for a weeknight showing of a longish movie with disturbing subject matter that is also appearing on NetFlix the same day as it hit theaters, meaning that a lot of people wound up seeing it at home.

I wonder about the handful of people seeing it with me, a bit - how many of them are like me, the odd folks who love movies but don't subscribe to Netflix? I'm not necessarily a hold-out as much as I have trouble with the idea of paying a monthly fee while I've got a pile of discs I've purchased but not watched and will likely go to the theater every night I can. How many are like that guy sitting in the front row, wanting to use every bit of his peripheral vision to see what turns out to be a film that earns such treatment? How many are like the guy behind me, whom may have found this to be the only thing starting at around 8pm and didn't seem prepared for one of the more gut-punching moments of violence?

I don't understand how the finances work in the movie industry under the best of situations, and I only sort of grasp what's going on here: Beasts is a very polished movie but likely a hard sell on its own because of the material, but Netflix doesn't need to sell one of these; it needs to offer a steady enough stream of them to get people to subscribe. It's risk reduction.

Still, I like the big screen, even with a large TV in a small living room at my disposal, and I wonder if there's something to be done about it. Hollywood Movie Money tickets for subscribers, perhaps? Not that certain chains will let themselves get into bed with the enemy in any way, but I fear that there aren't enough folks out there who will regularly make the decision to pay to watch something that they can see free at home, no matter how much better the presentation is, even though that experience is worth preserving for films like this.

Beasts of No Nation

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, DCP)

Horror is assumed going into a film like Beasts of No Nation; the audience knows about child soldiers and African chaos on a factual level and has perhaps steeled itself for that. Filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga never missteps there, but where many would make the whole production ugly, he constantly reminds us that Africa is beautiful, twisting the knife just a bit more.

That beauty can exist in the middle of a country at war with itself, such as the unnamed one where Agu (Abraham Attah) lives at the start. His mother (Anna K. Abebrese) is religious, his father (Kobina Amissah-Sam) is a teacher and community leader, his big brother (Francis Weddey) is girl-crazy, and his best friend Dike (Emmanuel Affadzi) may be short, but he's funny and extroverted. When the buffer zone where his village is located shrinks to nothing, he's barely able to escape into the forest, and it's not long before a group of rebels finds him. Their Commandant (Idris Elba) has charisma and a way of turning kids into fierce soldiers - witness Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye) and a second-in-command (Kurt Egyiawan) barely out of his teens, and no issue killing those that don't get with the program.

What Fukunaga is trying to do with the start isn't exactly a mystery, but it's no less effective for being transparent. Heck, those in a North American audience may watch the scenes of kids running around their neighborhood, making their own entertainment instead of plopping down in front of a screen, and getting smiled at by a friendly cop, and feel a bit nostalgic, never mind that the "cop" is an ECOMOD peacekeeper. As much as Fukunaga doesn't hide the danger, there's something about this place that the audience doesn't just see as the best an African kid could hope for but wants for itself, and seeing that admittedly precarious tranquility ripped away works.

Full review on EFC.

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