"With a truly astonishing debut performance from Attah and a monstrous turn from Elba, Beasts of No Nation manages to bring to the screen the full horror of what child soldiers are forced to do"

A somewhat recent and tragic subject that has become a recurring image on the modern battlefield is that of the child soldiers, often found fighting in the war torn regions of the Third World. Beasts of No Nation depicts the brutality of war through the eyes of a child soldier and it does not spare the viewers any details in revealing the true horrors of what such children are forced to experience and the atrocities they can be forced to commit.

The story follows Agu, a young boy living in an unnamed African country torn apart by a brutal Civil War. Separated from his evacuated mother and having narrowly escaped a military firing squad that claims the lives of his father and brother, Agu soon finds himself a child soldier in a militia led by a fearsome figure known only as Commandant. With the war dragging on, Agu soon finds himself forced to commit all manner of atrocities, and struggles to retain what little of his childhood innocence remains.

Adapting the 2005 novel of the same name by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga tells the story of the plight of the child soldier. The film depicts the process in which previously innocent children, playing and laughing, are moulded into dead-eyed, unflinching killers. They lose their families in the conflict that surrounds them and lacking any sort of family to guide them on the right path, they fall under the spell of local tyrants who promise them brotherhood and revenge on those who have taken their families from them.

The film does not spare us any details, depicting the brutal initiation process that young Agu undergoes, from hazing and beatings, in which those who fail are slaughtered like cattle. To the first act of murder he is forced to commit, that of a terrified innocent prisoner whose only crime is that he builds bridges. The battle sequences are horrific, depicting all manner of horrors, from the summary execution of prisoners to the capturing and raping of innocent women. The film may prove a difficult viewing experience to those who are upset by graphic depictions of conflict and in particular in the depiction of war crimes, of which there are many.

The character of Agu is truly a heartbreaking character and would be immensely difficult for any young actor to take on. Thankfully newcomer Abraham Attah is up to the task of tackling such a delicate role. Attah delivers a performance that perfectly captures the multitude of changes and emotions that afflict young Agu as he undergoes the transformation from a mischievous but good natured boy, into a battle hardened killer who is fanatically loyal to the cause that is given to him and eager to seek vengeance on those who he perceives have wronged him and his fellow soldiers.

Idris Elba’s role of Commandant is a truly fearsome creation. Commandant is many things, a murderer, a rapist and all round a monster in human form. However while depicting all the quirks of such an evil individual, the lust for power and the lust for blood, Elba manages to imbue the character with an air of charisma and, dare I say it, warmth, giving the character the air of a father figure. This fatherly performance serves to highlight to the viewer how such a despicable individual is able to command such fanatical loyalty from his motley battalion of children. I would rank this performance as arguably the best of Elba’s career thus far, and would not be surprised if he was received an Oscar nomination for this truly brilliant performance.

Beasts of No Nation is a brutal viewing experience, but I feel that this brutality is what makes the film work. The subject matter does not deserve an easy viewing experience, as it brings awareness to a subject matter that we have read about all too often in books and newspapers, it is a travesty that children are forced to take part in the wars of adults; wars in which they have no business fighting in.

The film brilliantly manages to capture the unflinching nature of a child soldier, with some truly standout sequences, in particular one scene in which, following the use of hallucinatory drugs, Agu witnesses the lush greens of the long grass turn red as he charges into battle.

With a truly astonishing debut performance from Attah and a monstrous turn from Elba, Beasts of No Nation manages to bring to the screen the full horror of what child soldiers are forced to do, and sheds light on this tragic subject that has for too long been left in the dark when it comes to screen depictions of war.