Fresh off receiving a host of year-end awards and nominations -- from the Golden Globes to the Indie Spirit Awards -- "Beasts of No Nation" is now officially an Oscar contender, so the time is right to pay a visit to this potential game-changer. It's the first narrative feature distributed by Netflix, and if it achieves the views to match its critical success, the film could put a final emphatic nail in the coffin of traditional distribution methods.
Written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, and based on Uzodinma Iweala's novel, "Beasts" follows the 8-year-old Agu (newcomer Abraham Attah in a phenomenal performance) as he's indoctrinated into the life of a child soldier in an unnamed African country. When government forces attack on his village, Agu is left to fend for himself in the jungle, where he falls in with a rebel militia led by the menacing Commandant (Idris Elba). As Agu is trained as a warrior, he and his ragtag band of brothers are exploited into committing atrocities, supposedly in the name of winning back his homeland. Acting as both drill sergeant and father figure to his young charges, Elba is magnetic as the Commandant, but Attah's performance is astonishing, capturing Agu's transformation from vibrant, happy kid to dead-eyed killer in heartbreaking detail. The vagueness of the story's details has a distancing effect, like someone explaining the terrible events happening "somewhere over there." It dulls some of the impact, but there's a savage beauty to both the film's performances and Fukunaga's direction that's impossible to dismiss.