Netflix-produced 'Beasts of No Nation' could shake up future of film releases

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Jarring imagery and command performances from Idris Elba and Abraham Attah in Netflix film “Beasts of No Nation,” released October 16, make the film an award contender.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

When “Beasts of No Nation” premiered Oct. 16, most people watched from their couches rather than movie theater seats. 

“Beasts” was released on Netflix’s streaming service, which caters to 69 million subscribers. The streaming service, in a move to expand its reputation as a quality media producer, bought the rights to the film for $12 million earlier this year. Only 31 movie theaters across the U.S. showed the film, while many prominent theater chains such as AMC, Carmike, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment cinemas boycotted it.

In an interview with “The Wrap,”  movie analyst Jeff Bock said that marquee movie theaters should feel threatened by Netflix’s unorthodox film release. 

“It has the potential to have a major impact,” Bock said. “If a streaming release becomes an option, as opposed to say a limited platform release, think of the marketing money [filmmakers] would save on what’s essentially a wide release."

Netflix has already built up a solid repertoire in the Emmys, the major television awards show, but the company has never produced an Academy Award-winning film. Netflix is banking on “Beasts” to be their first Oscar contender. Many movie analysts view the film’s theatrical release as a tactic to satisfy the Academy’s requirement that a film be released in theaters.

“Beasts” centers on a young African boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) who has his innocence ripped away when an opposing rebel military force invades his village during a civil war, killing his father and brother. Agu escapes into the forest where he crosses paths with an opposing rebel commandant (Idris Elba) who is merciless and manipulative, coercing Agu into becoming one of his soldiers. The events that unfold are often horrific, detailing Agu’s maturation into the “beast” he’s destined to be with each unspeakable act he is forced to perform. 

Attah is extraordinary as Agu, allowing the audience to see the war through his eyes as his heart is slowly torn apart by the circumstances he endures. As the brutal commandant, Elba delivers an awards-worthy performance. He portrays a man defined by duplicity, expressing both charisma and pure evil, insight and ignorance.

The film’s beautifully jarring imagery will likely earn director Cary Fukunaga a nomination this awards season. Fukunaga employs a stark contrast in static and handheld camera usage, using motion in certain scenes to illustrate and hide aspects of the brutality Agu and his fellow combatants exhibit.

Offering a compelling take on the military exploitation of children in Africa, “Beasts” is essential cinema, displaying the level of inhumanity the human race is capable of. In a 2015 interview during the Tribeca Film Festival, Fukunaga admitted that the movie isn’t exactly a pleasant viewing experience. 

“The movie is a very difficult subject,” Fukunaga said. “But I think that, by the nature of Netflix, it’ll be in people’s faces enough where they’re like, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try.’” The payoff of Netflix’s release strategy won’t be evident until late February, when the Oscars are presented. If Idris Elba or Fukunaga are able to snag an award, Netflix will subsequently gain credibility and show movie producers that there can be an alternative to the standard, theatrical release. For now, viewers can be assured that “Beasts of No Nation” is a captivating spectacle. Fukunaga’s film effectively conveys a child’s view of the savage world around him as he wades through a brutal civil war, driven by the authority of his diabolical commandant.