Beasts of No Nation

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Beasts of No Nation Movie Poster Image
Tragic story of boy soldier in Africa is extremely violent.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 137 minutes
Parents recommend

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Clearly illustrates the horrors of war: everyone loses, especially the children. Marvels at one person holding fast to his innate humanity despite the most monstrous of circumstances; values resilience, perseverance, and the power of healing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Very young hero is forced to face atrocities and is close to succumbing to the pure evil around him, but he retains an unyielding sense of conscience; he refuses to forget that life was once a thing of beauty. The film attempts to show the complexities of even the most brutal of men, letting the audience glimpse an almost imperceptible spark of decency beneath the carnage for which the lead villain is responsible. Dozens of young boys are depicted as victims who become the oppressors, reminding us how fragile our inborn goodness is. In war, all the participating armies, rebels, and troops are savage and incapable of independent thought, easily becoming part of a bloodthirsty mob.

Violence

Extremely violent throughout. Though some of the rampant brutality is implied or only briefly shown, it's clear that a toddler is stomped to death, a woman is shot in the head as she's being raped, and indiscriminate shooting and killing of a vast number of warring factions takes place, with innocent citizens (including women and children) as victims. A child watches his father, grandfather, and older brother killed by rifle fire. Gunfire is continuous; bodies fall, bleed, and are shown dead on the ground. A featured young boy is shot and dies. People are killed or executed by gunfire, firing squads, grenades, and swords. The young hero is forced to use a machete to hack and kill a noncombatant. Rape of the young hero is implied but not shown. Women and girls are treated as sexual objects to be used with or without their consent. Young women are brought for sexual purposes to victorious men and boys after a battle.

Sex

Young warriors talk crudely of sex and of women; some sexual jokes.

Language

"F--k" in many forms dozens of times, during battle and emanating from frustration and anger. Some bathroom humor.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Marijuana and hard drug use in many scenes: Troops and even the youngest boys cut, heat, and sniff a substance that may be "brown-brown," a form of powdered cocaine and gun powder.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Beasts of No Nation is a brutal, uncompromising look at the life of a young guerilla fighter in an unnamed African country. Based on the book by Uzodinma Iweala, the story is told from young Agu's point of view as he narrates the horrifying events that shatter his life. After the violent deaths of his father, grandfather, and older brother, Agu is saved and recruited by the commandant of an army of boy soldiers, rebels whose way of life has become kill or be killed. Scenes of extreme violence are almost continuous; people are killed by all manner of weaponry (gunfire, grenades, a machete, stomping, firing squad). Though the filmmakers have taken care to keep much of the brutality either off camera or in brief shots, the implications and the savagery of the events are clear, including Agu's victimization at the hands of a sexual predator. Women are demeaned, used sexually, and, in one instance, raped by a gang of young warriors. Language is harsh; "f--k" is used dozens of times. Many characters, including the boys, use both marijuana and hard drugs several times. An important story created with great skill and passion, this film is still far too intense for kids.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 December 18, 2015

Brutal coming of age story amidst war and deception

I really enjoyed the fact that this film is called "Beasts of No Nation," with emphasis on the no nation. It's never stated where the location of... Continue reading
Parent of a 9 and 13 year old Written byfish_47 January 25, 2016

A hard hitting film about a child being seperated from his parents and forced to fight in a national civil war.

It is a good film but should not have the 15 age rating that it has in the UK. It should be an 18, and I am personally appalled at the idea that realistic grap... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byMovie Nerd 45 May 13, 2018

Tragic, violent, realistic and gruelling war film not for kids.

Beasts of No Nation is probably my favourite movie of the decade so far. It is extremely gritty and has a sense of realism seeing as the events of the film thou... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in the current day in an unnamed African country, BEASTS OF NO NATION tells the story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a bright, mischievous young boy who watches his loving family and his peaceful village destroyed by warring factions in his country's civil war. Alone and desperate in the bush after having run for his life, Agu is discovered by a band of rebel boys, covered in camouflage and carrying rifles. Like Agu, the boys have been orphaned and lost. They're held together by a charismatic leader, "Commandant" (Idris Elba), who has turned them into a "battalion" of young warriors using guerilla warfare to fight against the current government. Agu is recruited, trained, and taught that everyone he'll face in battle is responsible for his father's death. The boy finds himself in a chaotic world of war, where victims become predators, there are no clear-cut sides, and the frightened, isolated gang is indoctrinated, manipulated, and abused by the man who's both their savior and the enemy of their souls. Agu's narration guides the audience through this tragic journey.

Is it any good?

A terrifying story, powerful images, and exceptional performances add up to a compelling but sometimes hard-to-watch movie about the loss of innocence and horrors of war. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who acted as cinematographer and wrote the screenplay based on Uzodinma Iweala's novel, has created an unforgettable film that, though labeled "fiction," is a stunning recreation of events that have been well-documented as factual in the recent past.

It's a challenging two-plus hours, mostly because the leading performances are so gripping and so real that it's hard to look away even when horrifically brutal scenes are on the screen. Attah will break your heart; Elba brings nuance to a role that could have been simply the essence of evil. Beasts of No Nation has found a certain fame as the first feature film to stream on Netflix at the time of its theatrical release, but no matter the platform, it's absolutely not for kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the "fictional" war portrayed in Beasts of No Nation. From what you know, do you believe such events actually have happened or are happening now? What messages do you think the movie is hoping to convey? 

  • Think about and discuss the extreme violence in a film such as this one. Did the atrocities help make sense of Agu's state of mind and his behavior? Would the film and its messages have been as powerful without it? What is the impact of media violence on kids?

  • In what we call the "normal world," Agu's actions would be unforgivable. Do the circumstances of his desperation justify what he does? What realistic options, if any, does he have? How do you feel about him at the end of the movie?

  • In what ways did this movie change your ideas and attitudes about events in developing nations? Do you believe it's important to be aware of and pay attention to international struggles? Why?

  • How do the characters in Beasts of No Nation demonstrate perseverance? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

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