Movie Review: Beasts of No Nation

It’s been a whole month since I’ve blogged. It’s been a while.

I’m dealing with a lot of things right now. I’ve still been watching and I have written some reviews, just never clicked that publish button.

Get ready for some reviews, NFL power rankings from the last few weeks and eventually, sports reports so we can recap the best and worst performances of the year.

I’m starting up a new series called BVF, or Book versus Film, in which I’ll read a book, view the movie adaptation, discuss the highlights of both and conclude which brings more to the table.

Please remember that all of my series (Winners And Losers, Best Picture Journey, and now BVF) are side projects. With winners and losers, I’m trying to see at least ten films with each actor/actress/director before I include them and I want to make sure I write the best review of a Best Picture winner that I possibly can. BVF will be more of the same. Getting novels takes time but I will have the first installment of that series posted by the end of the week. For now, let’s get into this.

Netflix has been coming out with original content for a few years now but recently decided to take that a step further, purchasing the rights to Beasts of No Nation. This is a new direction for Netflix and hopefully one that works, because Amazon Prime and Hulu are trying to grab pieces of the online streaming pie as well.

That also means Beasts of No Nation had to make a statement with both audiences and critics and has thus far. It holds a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on more than 100 reviews, no small feat.

Yet calling Beasts of No Nation a beast of its own would be a lie, because as much as it tries, it struggles to bust out of the cage, that cage being the bars of creativity, original story and acting proficiency.

Director Cary Fukunaga may have worked seven years on the script, but I’m unsure where all the time went. The film is based on a novel of the same name and as we’ve seen from film adaptations lately, such as The Martian, much of the groundwork is already laid down for the visual cover. A great script and dialogue born from the pen of a natural storyteller should be expected from a film sharing material from a previous work and yet so often that is not the case nor is it here.

The truth is, Beasts of No Nation is soft. A story of survival and redemption should be gripping and its tenacity should command attention. It should parade such resolve and appeal that the breathing of its audience turns shallow, they’re so fearful of what comes next. A film based on audience alignment and experience parallels should demonstrate control and a strong compass. Beasts of No Nation, however, can barely contrive enough to keep me watching.

Dramas should want to keep its audience close but Fukunaga’s West African war creation only has the gravity to keep us where we are, not the strength to pull us closer. Like a large, unwanted boulder, we find ourselves incapable of moving this story out of the way and have no choice but to tolerate it and hope it traverses somewhere that makes our time dedicated to it feel worthwhile.

I’m being honest when I say it gets somewhere but I’m being equally honest when I tell you that point doesn’t come until the last fifteen minutes of this near two-and-a-half-hour charade. A film this long should have a huge payoff but the meal I have been presented with is mere crumbs when compared to what I’ve been teased with. A story of survival, the loss of child innocence, growing up in dire circumstances and seeing the world as it is for the first time turns out to be a film about a child who loses his family, is forced into a clan and then meanders around with things surely going on upstairs that we’re not privy to until the final scenes, which by this point is like a meal I ordered two and a half hours ago finally being brought out cold.

So should you get excited for Beasts of No Nation? No, I see no reason to but despite all of the beating I’ve given it, Beasts of No Nation is watchable. The acting stints from Idris Elba and first-timer Abraham Attah are average, no doubt limited by a casserole of a script that seems unsure what it wants to taste like. A story of survival doesn’t allow for character development as much as it allows for audience connection which is why the script’s failings are so crucial to this film’s overall success or lack thereof. Attah’s inexperience as an actor does come through at times, leaving a void in the already limited narrative.

The film’s visual storytelling is where the film hits pay dirt. The scenery and tone are constant in the visual sense. There’s no doubt where we are or what situation were in. The present is made very clear to us. There’s just no urgency to move in a direction nor an aspiration to make us feel or think about the underlying meanings that may or may not be there.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Avengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellarChappie)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (The MartianBlack Mass,Enemy at the GatesAnchorman 2: The Legend ContinuesLeon: The Professional)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Terminator: GenisysBlack SheepTwistedParkerHouse at the End of the Street)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (EverestHerculesThe SentinelMad Max: Fury RoadBlitz)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (The Lost BoysZombeaversCrankErasedI, Frankenstein)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The VisitThe Fantastic FourThe Boy Next DoorThe ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Beasts of No Nation: 61.

Beasts of No Nation isn’t a great film and it’s not an average film, but Netflix could have done a lot worse with their premier film. The acting turns and detail behind the camera make for a decent watch, but it’s not one I plan to revisit.

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