Netflix has made no secret of its plans to conquer the big screen and it’s kicking the process off right, with the much-anticipated Beasts of No Nation. The movie, which is the first project for director Cary Fukunaga after his widely acclaimed freshman season of True Detective, has earned tons of buzz over the last few months and now, it’s living up to the hype. After its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, Beasts Of No Nation is already earning rave reviews and inspiring lots of talk about the first potential Oscar for Netflix.
Based on Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name, the movie is an unflinching look at the experiences of a child soldier fighting in a civil war of an unnamed African country. The adaptation was written, produced and directed by Fukunaga, who has earned a rabid fanbase following his work on True Detective. His participation in the film has warranted its fair share of attention, but if the director’s name alone isn’t enough to peak your interest, the stellar cast should.
Beasts of No Nation stars the always-good Idris Elba as a rebel leader, known as “Commandant,” who claims a young kid named Agu after troops kill the child’s father and older brother. Newcomer Abraham Attah plays the lead character of Agu, who is brought into the world of rebels (ranging from kids his age to grown men) and trained to fight, kill and pillage. He eventually goes on to become the right-hand man of the Commandant.
It’s not exactly an easy story to tackle, but the film is already earning critical acclaim for its stark and engrossing command of the subject. Both leads are garnering high praise for their performances. “Elba as the Commandant is a tour-de-force performance as he plays him with intimidation, compassion, and madness,” Business Insider wrote of the film, while BBC calls the portrayal “magnetically ominous.”
But it’s Attah who is earning the most acclaim. The young star had no acting experience before Fukunaga cast him, but he plays the role so convincingly that critics are calling the true Oscar contender of the film. As The Hollywood Reporter put it, “How a child actor could be coached to reveal and project the enormous range of reactions and emotions required for the role of Agu vis practically unimaginable, but Attah is persuasive and true and constantly interesting to watch…”
As for Fukunaga, the movie is proof of what everyone already suspected: True Detective was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his tremendous and ambitious talent. In Beasts of No Nation, his direction remains as vivid and detail-oriented as ever, taking his time to show stunning image after stunning image that will take your breath away. As New York Mag described, “It all works, including the tense, droning score from Beasts of the Southern Wild composer Dan Romer.”
With so much praise pouring in for Beasts of No Nation (which already has a 93% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes), it seems like Netflix could have a game-changer on its hands. Besides having very good chances at the Oscars (for the film, the director and the stars), there’s also the matter of the movie’s unprecedented form of release. Netflix will be releasing the film simultaneously on their streaming service as well as in select theaters in October. It’s a move that could end up working in its favor, especially if Beasts of No Nation continues to cultivate positive attention. Viewers who want to see it on the big screen – as both Fukunaga and critics insist it should be seen – will head to theaters, while those who don’t live near artsy cinemas will be able to catch it at home.
If the movie ends up performing as expected, Netflix will have not only made a splashy entry into the world of feature films, but will also have had a significant impact on how movies are released.
Beasts of No Nation is set to premiere on October 16.