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Cary Joji Fukunaga
Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Emmanuel Affadzi
Cary Joji Fukunaga
During a civil war in his West African home, young Agu gets abducted and forced to become a child soldier.
Rated TV-MA.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 137 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/31/2021

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Cary Joji Fukunaga and 1st AD Jon Mallard
• “Passion Project” Documentary
• Interview With Writer/Director Cary Joji Fukunaga
• “Costume Design” Featurette
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Beasts of No Nation: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2015)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 10, 2021)

With well-regarded movies like 2018’s Roma and 2019’s The Irishman under its belt, Netflix has shed its prior life as a DVD rental company to become a major operator in film production/distribution. 2015’s Beasts of No Nation acted as the first feature film under the Netflix umbrella, and it finally gets a disc-based release via this 2021 Criterion package.

Based on Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 novel, Beasts takes us to an unnamed West African country. Beset by civil war, various combatants recruit children to fight for them.

After combat lays waste to his village, young Agu (Abraham Attah) finds himself abducted by rebel soldiers. Under the brutal tutelage of a hard-edged Commandant (Idris Elba), Agu deals with his new circumstances as a warrior.

I thought Beasts earned Academy Award consideration, but it turns out the movie got no Oscar nominations. I can’t recall if this happened because the Academy didn’t think the film merited their plaudits or due to the conflict about whether or not the Netflix-produced Beasts qualified as a “feature film”.

That remains a controversy six years later, as the Academy continues to struggle with the new world of major movies that exist mainly as fodder for streaming channels. Beasts came before its time in that regard.

The other question becomes whether or not the Academy shafted Beasts when it offered no nominations. Probably, though I can’t claim the movie reaches such a high level that its lack of Oscar love turns into a tragedy.

The weakest side of Beasts stems from its narrative and lack of much progression/development. Admittedly, some of this seems intentional, as the filmmakers don’t desire to provide a clear-cut A-to-Z plot.

It also makes sense for much of the movie, as we need to follow Agu’s emotional journey more than anything else. With the loose framework of the war around it, Beasts doesn’t come with a narrative that requires tight plotting.

However, Beasts loses some points because it doesn’t give Agu the focus he needs. The film never strays far from him, but it becomes so enamored with Commandant that Agu can feel secondary too much of the time.

Not that I can blame the filmmakers for the concentration on Commandant, as Elba brings a powerhouse performance to the role. He conveys the appropriate level of brutality but he also adds enough of a human side to this nasty character to make him involving.

We never learn Commandant’s back story, but we find it easy to believe that he entered combat the same way Agu wound up there. While the film mostly makes Commandant seem like a bad person, it doesn’t make him so unilaterally awful that we can’t still see some humanity.

As much as we invest in the time with Commandant, I still think the film would fare better with a tighter focus on Agu, as he remains the story’s heart and soul. Ably depicted by Attah, we trace his path for happy youngster to cold-blooded killer in a natural manner.

It just becomes a flaw that Agu gets less to do as the film progresses. This doesn’t turn into a major problem, but the movie loses punch as it goes, mainly because it seems unsure of where it wants to focus.

Beasts does excel when it portrays the senselessness of war, especially given the wholly unclear goals of the combatants we follow. The various factions fight for reasons that don’t ever seem obvious, and one gets the impression they battle more because that’s all they know than anything else.

Though we see some Full Metal Jacket here, Apocalypse Now offers the most obvious influence. Agu goes down a winding journey into a random world of combat that serves little obvious purpose, just as we saw Captain Willard do.

Of course, the use of a little boy as the protagonist separates Beasts from Apocalypse Now. Nonetheless, parallels remain, and the depiction of war as pointless and confused acts as one of the best aspects of Beasts.

Much of Beasts works, as it offers a brutal view of man’s inhumanity to man – or boy. The movie simply lacks the spark and focus it needs to become something great.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Beasts of No Nation appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie provided a solid presentation.

Sharpness usually worked well. Though a few wider shots displayed a smidgen of softness, the majority of the movie gave us accurate, precise visuals.

I saw no shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes remained absent. The movie also displayed no print flaws.

Beasts opted for a fairly typical mix of amber/orange and teal, though not cranked to absurd extremes. One scene also opted for a strong red/pink orientation. Within those constraints, colors looked appropriate.

Blacks appeared dark and dense, and shadows boasted good delineation. Low-light scenes seemed smooth and well-rendered. This turned into an effective transfer.

I also felt pleased with the engaging DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Beasts. Unsurprisingly, combat/action scenes added the most zing to the proceedings, as those cranked out vivid material from all around the spectrum.

In addition, the mix brought a good sense of place and ambience throughout the film. Music showed nice stereo presence, and effects meshed together well. These moved smoothly across speakers and formed a quality environment for the material.

Audio quality seemed satisfying. Music was clear and full, while effects offered accurate, dynamic information.

Speech appeared natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. The soundtrack fit the story on display and became a lively partner to the visuals.

A few extras round out the disc, and we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga and 1st AD Jon Mallard. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, photography and costumes, music, research, and related domains.

Though Mallard chimes in with some good info, this remains Fukunaga’s track, and he makes it an effective examination of the film. We get a strong overview of various subjects through this rich, compelling chat.

With Passion Project, we get a one-hour, one-minute, 41-second documentary. It includes notes from Fukunaga, author Uzodinna Uweala, producers Amy Kaufman, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Riva Marker and actors Idris Elba and Abraham Attah.

“Passion” looks at the source novel and its adaptation, story/characters, Fukunaga’s approach to the material, sets and locations, cast and performances, photography, and audio/music. Inevitably, some of the commentary’s content repeats here. Nonetheless, we get plenty of unique content in this tight, informative program.

Next comes an Interview with Writer/Director Cary Joji Fukunaga. In this 21-minute, 27-second piece, Fukunaga chats with film/TV producer and cultural critic Franklin Leonard about his life and career as well as aspects of Beasts. This turns into a compelling piece that complements the other extras.

Costume Design runs 20 minutes, nine seconds and features comments from costume designer Jenny Eagen. She covers her choices and work for the film in this enjoyable overview of the topic.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get the usual Criterion booklet. It includes credits, photos and an essay from critic Robert Daniels to complete the set on a satisfying note.

As a dark depiction of the world of child soldiers, Beasts of No Nation offers a brutal but usually compelling experience. Though it loses momentum as it goes, the movie still becomes a bracing tale of war. The Blu-ray comes with very good picture and audio as well as a good collection of bonus materials. Expect a solid release for a largely involving tale.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 2
2 3:
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