Tag Archives: Based On Book

Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)

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Rating: B-/ Flaws aside, I don’t think this movie is as bad as the critics say. Sure, the characters are fairly unlikable and the plot twist doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but I was invested throughout the entire film in what was going to happen next (which is strange, since the lead character actually kind of annoyed me.) Plus, I love Charlize Theron, no matter what kind of fucked-up head case she’s playing (take the Oscar-winning crime drama Monster, for example. ) Continue reading Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)

Movie Review: Stardust (2007)

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Rating: A/ Once in a while a movie comes out that’s just plain fun. Stardust is such a movie. If there was ever a film that was able to invoke the spirit of The Princess Bride while still managing to bring something new and interesting to the table, Stardust is it. It’s a simply magical romp featuring witches, princesses, spells, and crusading sky pirates, a hip, funny, a raucous fairy tale with some genuinely scary moments and a unique sensibility all it’s own. Continue reading Movie Review: Stardust (2007)

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

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Rating: C/ How do I hate Rorschach’s Batman voice? Let me count the ways. Set in an alternate timeline where Richard Nixon tries to shut down a group of masked vigilantes, the premise of Watchmen is admittedly original. I really liked the opening montage, where director Zack Snyder recreates famous moments from the 60’s and 70’s with a superhero twist. But Watchmen also proves to be both over-baked and overblown, attempting to portray the relentless ugliness of human nature with a stylized superhero movie format and falling short of greatness. Continue reading Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

Movie Review: Little Children (2006)

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Rating: B+/ So, is the movie called Little Children because the sex offender played by Jackie Earle Haley has a thing for little children or because all the adult characters in the movie act like little children, self-obsessed and bickering? The jury’s still out on that. While the main plotline concerning extramarital affairs and upper-class ennui in an affluent suburban neighborhood is dark and distressing enough, I found the subplot following a child abuser and exhibitionist moving into his mothers’ house after being released from prison (the superior thread by far) absolutely harrowing. Did this movie really make me feel compassion for a guy who gets his kicks flashing his weenie at little kids? What does that say about the film’s aptitude for puzzling moral ambiguity? Moreover, what does it say about me? Continue reading Movie Review: Little Children (2006)

Film Discussion: Spider (2002)

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Rating: A-/ ***Warning- This is more of a comprehensive discussion of the film Spider than a actual review. Spoilers should be expected.*** First off, I adore Ralph Fiennes. I really just love the guy. I think he’s one of the best (if not actually the best) actors of today. I just rediscovered the greatness of Cronenberg’s psychoanalytic thriller Spider, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about why I think Spider was one of Fiennes’ best performances and one of his most daring film endeavors. I’m also going to discuss what made Spider so great and look at the layers of meaning the psychology of this film provides. Let this be my last warning; this is going to be a spoiler laden post. If you haven’t seen this film yet and want to, avoid this review like the plague. Thank you.

When we first meet Spider (Ralph Fiennes) as he gets off a train, he seems very small and vulnerable, one of society’s undisputed outcasts. Nicotine-stained fingers, raggedy old coat, stubbly, bewildered face- he looks like he wishes he cold just sink into the ground and disappear. We can also see clear as day that not all is right with him psychologically, as he continually mutters incomprehensibly to himself (turn on your subtitles!) and doesn’t seem totally cognizant of his surroundings. He’s definitely out of his element, and rightfully so- Spider has just been released from an insane asylum that he was committed to since childhood, and is being placed in the care of Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave,) a crusty old woman who owns a halfway house for the mentally disturbed.

The house could use a spruce-up and Mrs. Wilkinson could use some work on her bedside manner. She treats the patients like naughty children who constantly need to be berated and told off. Spider begins reexamining events that placed him in the care of the state by becoming an ‘observer’ of his childhood, following his boy self around the familiar streets of his youth and sitting in on conversations between people that occurred at that time, and some that didn’t. This is where the brilliance of this movie lies, for as soon as we are introduced to his parents (Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne) we are immediately placed in the shoes of an unreliable narrator. While his mum is long-suffering, beautiful, and kind, his father Bill is a philandering alcoholic and all around jerk who Spider competes with for the affections of his mother.

In a series of events that young Spider couldn’t possibly have been present for, we find that Dad is screwing a local floozy named Yvonne (also played by Miranda Richardson) and that they kill Spider’s saintly mother when she catches them making it in the garden shed. These scenes, and the subsequent scenes where Yvonne takes Mrs. Cleg’s place as Spider’s new ‘mother,’ are ludicrously over-the-top and almost cartoonish in nature. Juxtaposed with the hyperrealistic scenes where Spider himself is present, these parts seem to make no sense unless you take them at face value- that Spider is making them up. That they came out of the mind of a naive, inexperienced, and mentally ill man who has spent most of his life in an institution.

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Yvonne (despite being played by the same actress who played the mother) is slutty, coarse, and rendered with make-up and costume design to be actually fairly unattractive. The infinitely well-meaning Mrs. Cleg is superior in every way to this common street whore; of this Spider is convinced. So he sets out to murder Yvonne by turning the gas stove on as she sleeps, only to find he has murdered his mother and ‘Yvonne’ as he knows her never existed. Yes, maybe he was jokingly flashed by a woman similar to his incarnation of Yvonne (in fact, ‘Flashing Yvonne’ is played a by a whole different actress than Richardson, Allison Egan) and his mind did the rest of the work. Building upon this event he created the ultimate harlot, the woman who would stand by as his dad killed his mom and insist he call her ‘mother.’

So what do I think? I think Spider’s oh-so-virtuous mother became alcoholic and bitter, creating ‘Yvonne’ in his mind and causing him to believe that his dad murdered his mom and replaced her with an uncaring, promiscuous duplicate. Spider obviously has the hots for his mom on some subconscious level, brushing her hair and watching her put on make-up adoringly and eyeing her as she tries on a slinky nightgown. She became boozy and hard due to her marital problems with her husband and his love of going to the Dog and Beggar and drinking. Someone had to be blamed, and the issue had to be put in more black-and-white terms so Spider could understand it.

There’s only one thing about this movie that confuses me, and that’s the scene where Spider’s in a restaurant looking at a picture of a green Yorkshire field. Suddenly he’s standing in a field identical to the one in the picture,  hanging out with a couple of old men who don’t particularly seem to have their mental faculties. I think that he met the men at the asylum (I believe one of these guys was the one wielding a piece of broken glass in the flashback.) He imagined them in a grassy field and used some of the dialogue he had heard from them in the scenario. I’m also very curious whether Spider realized what he had done to his mother (he does refrain from braining Mrs. Wilkinson, who he imagines as Yvonne, with a hammer) or whether the big reveal was just a tip-off to the audience and Spider is as lost as ever.

I don’t think it should be surprising to you that Ralph Fiennes is incredible in this movie. He shows a gift for portraying debilitating mental illness with a nuanced sleight of hand that is not generally present in these kinds of performances. So that’s it. I’ve explained why I think Spider is one of the more complex psychological thrillers I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve offered some explanation to the meaning of the events presented in this movie. Liked this discussion? Have any thoughts? Want me to write another like it? Stop by and tell me in the comments!

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We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

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Rating: B/  Oh, Franklin. you should have worn the damned condom!

Okay, so maybe Eva Khachaturian wasn’t meant to be a mother. But is she responsible for making her son a monster? Society seems to think so. In the wake of a horrific attack orchestrated by Kevin, a sadistic fifteen-year-old psychopath, Eva (Tilda Swinton) is heckled on the street and sometimes outright attacked by people who lost their loved ones in the tragedy.

    In a swirl of fever dream-like memories, past becomes present, and Eva remembers when her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) and kids Kevin and Celie (Ezra Miller and Ashley Gerasimovich) were still with her. Eva never seemed to really want Kevin, a vile, evil, perpetually incontinent child turned killer teen who mind-fucked his mother from a very early age, but the real question is whether Eva could stop the direction her son was going.

   Franklin, a happy guy in denial of Kevin’s true nature, condemns Eva for not connecting with her little moppet, and Kevin simultaneously gaslights Eva and turns Eva and her well-meaning but dopey husband against each other. Kevin might seem like a child of Satan or some other supernatural incarnate, but really he’s like thousands of other children in the world who really don’t seem to have a conscience- and who better to blame than the boy’s own mother?

Anyone who has seen filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher knows she has a propensity for both beautiful cinematography and grueling bleakness. We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on the best-selling novel by the same title by Lionel Shriver, is no exception. The film is intensely visual, with a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, especially around the beginning, and benefits from an outstanding performance by Tilda Swinton as the complex Eva.

Eva seems alternately like a bad mother and all-around ice queen and a woman trying to do best by her family, and one must wonder if her memory (and by extension, the whole movie’s narrative) is reliable as she paints a terrifying portrait of Kevin literally from babyhood to present day. The movie asks the question of whether we can always blame the parents of these children for the kids’ evil actions or if some youngsters are just bad eggs.

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The answer to this question is often ambiguous here, but ultimately we decide that no, we can’t ultimately blame Eva for how ‘widdle Kevin’ turned out. It brings up the aged-old question of ‘nature vs. nurture’ in a new and interesting way, and packs a hell of a wallop in the process. This movie will make you think twice about going off the pill and make you wonder if having a little ball of joy of your own is overrated.

The part near the end of the movie at the school when Kevin’s plan goes full circle makes me think of a extra I saw on my parents’ DVD of the original Halloween. Donald Pleasence, who played Sam Loomis, told the director that he could play the sequence when Myers falls out the window after getting shot and somehow escapes into thin air one of two ways; ‘Oh my God, he’s gone’ or ‘I knew this would happen.’ Ultimately they decided on the latter because the former would be, well, too much.

That’s what I think of when I see Eva’s expression as she eyes the bicycle locks Kevin previously ordered in the mail on the doors of the school auditorium. Her expression is less a look of shocked horror as it is a look of resignation. I knew this would happen. On one hand, you wonder why Eva didn’t get her son major psychological help right off the bat, but on the other, could she really of prevented Kevin’s insanity if she had? After all, when you have a blissfully ignorant husband who refuses to believe your son has a problem, how are you going to get an evaluation carried out without his blessing?

All in all, We Need to Talk About Kevin is kind of like watching a train wreck, albeit a visually striking one with a handful of outstanding shots. It makes us women, whether we plan to be mothers or not, wonder how far maternal love goes and if you can be held culpable simply for not loving your child enough. Is it possible to love a monster? I think so. People do it all the time.

But for someone like Eva who obviously didn’t want to be a mother in the first place, her failure to love her son was ultimately ammunition for her evil child to use against her. Eva’s coldness is not an excuse for Kevin’s behavior anymore than Kevin being a difficult baby is an excuse for Eva to make very little effort with her offspring. One persons’ blame does not cancel the others’ out. But that’s not enough for other parent not to convince themselves that they could do better. Given the circumstances, could you?

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White Bim Black Ear (1977)

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Bad things can’t seem to stop happening to Bim, The canine protagonist of  the heartbreaking Soviet Russian film White Bim Black Ear. Despite happy beginnings with a tender-hearted widower named  Ivan Ivanovich (Vyacheslav Tikhonov,) Bim’s life is thrown into turmoil when Ivanovich’s old war injury deteriorates and he is placed in the hospital.

Despite Ivan placing a neighbor in charge of feeding and taking care of Bim, the faithful dog pines for his master, wandering the streets every day desperately searching for his person and meeting people both sympathetic to his plight and merciless. Is suffering to be Bim’s lot in life? Must he consistently be exposed to the worst human nature has to offer, even when aching for his owner’s return?

Warning; if you’re at all sensitive to cruelty to animals and/or a dog lover, this movie will hit you hard. My helpless weeping at the end of this film can not even be counted as a cathartic cry as such; it was an ugly cry, complete with my vision blurring so badly through a multitude of tears I couldn’t even see the screen. There’s only one movie involving doggie melodrama that made me cry even more than this one; and that movie was Hachi- A Dog’s Tale (the ultimate canine grief porn weeper, which you will desist from so much as mentioning in my presence.)

Although the emotional factor of this movie is alarmingly high, it is by no means a perfect movie. For one thing, it’s wwaaayy too long, just over three hours. It could probably be cut down by thirty minutes or so, but the director is intent on getting every moment of brutal tragedy in there. Luckily, I have a really long attention span for movies; on the other hand, some people don’t. Those people are likely to find White Bim Black Ear excessive or even, ahem, boring (it does manage to be bafflingly grueling at points, especially for a film that seems to have a fairly small story to tell and an awful lot of filler.)

I also have questions concerning how Ivan’s corpulent, gossipy neighbor (Valentina Vladimirova) is portrayed. She really doesn’t seem to have much motivation for ostracizing Bim, rendering her one-dimensional and almost cartoonish. The strident nature in which is she is portrayed in the film doesn’t really work, especially since it is her that deals the final fatal blow to Bim’s fate. It seems like she should be taken somewhat more seriously by the script; the only reason I can imagine for her atrocious behavior is that she is a horrid and deeply bored old hag, intent on making those around her suffer. She seems too over-the-top to be a real person though, despite the definite existence of people somewhat like her in this world.

Now for the good; the animal wranglers have picked an amazing dog actor to play Bim. Vyacheslav Tikhonov does an excellent job as BIm’s much-loved master and has good chemistry with the canine who plays him. This movie really shows the loyalty of dogs, although it goes to far at times at making Bim more intelligent than a dog could be in actuality (including making Bim know in his heart that the note placed in front of him on the floor is from his hospitalized master- I mean, I know that we’re told a million times that Bim is an intelligent dog, but come on.)

Take heed, this movie is not for children. It’s agonizingly sad; you keep holding out your hope things will turn out okay, but the tragedy overrides any happiness that might have been had by the characters. However, if you like heartbreaking Russian stories, drowned in hundreds of years of tears and Vodka, this movie is for you. Bim is a true innocent, ignorant to maliciousness of many human beings, but, as they say, sometimes it is the innocents who suffer. Keep tissues handy.

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Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

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Most children can’t refrain from doing some whining and complaining on their weekly excursion to Wal-Mart. So when you see these little troopers trekking across the country, you can’t help but be uplifted a little. And have things placed in some serious perspective.

In Australia in the year of 1931, white settlers are extremely concerned that the half-caste aboriginal children of the bush will procreate with partners of the darker persuasion and stamp out sacred whiteness from peoples’ lineage. So concerned are they that they recruit an expert at white bigotry by the name of A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) to help send mixed race children to grim work camps. Their intention is to ensure the children will learn to walk the walk, talk the talk, and worship the higher power of white Christians, and, God willing, pair up with white mates, gradually easing the aborigine lineage out of their family tree. Because everybody knows that the more whiteness you put in someone’s genealogy, the whiter the descendants will look. And white is might, apparently. But what these people didn’t count on intrepid youngsters Molly, Gracie, and Daisy.

Molly (Evelyn Sampi) is the oldest of three aborigine girls, and she leads her younger sisters Gracie (Laura Monoghan) and Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) on an epic escape from the camp in which they’ve been placed. Using the tracking techniques of their ancestors, the girls manage to evade detection for days while attempting to follow the ‘rabbit-proof fence’ to freedom, and ultimately to their much-beloved home and family. Unfortunately, Neville has other ideas, and his determination combined with the girl’s gumption leads to a cross-country chase that will test all four people’s willpower. Because Molly and her sisters aren’t just three little girls on the lam anymore- they’ve captured the hearts and attention of the disfranchised aborigines wheedling away their days in labor camps. They stand for something- and that’s the one thing Neville won’t allow.

Although the film version of the real story of Molly Craig and the book that ensued is probably a rather sugarcoated account of the horrors the Craig girls endured and their harrowing escape from captivity, it still captures the imagination and sympathy of viewers with very little understanding of these events. I personally knew nothing about the racial issues between the white settlers and the natives in Australia, although I know that the white man has tended to conquer wherever hew saw an opportunity to do so, from the Native Americans, to Africa, to even this. The filmmaker, Philip Noyce, chose a trio of good little actresses and although their inexperience sometimes shows they manage to carry the film for the most part on their small shoulders.

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Kenneth Branagh is despicable without being extravagantly and exaggeratedly evil, and the horrors of the camp where Aborigines are trained as domestic servants and have their culture systematically stamped out are shown with harrowing restraint. I think Neville (or ‘Devil,’ as the native children not-so-charitably call him) believes he is doing the right thing by attempting to ensure the preservation of the white race; it’s just that what he sees as right is in reality so very, very wrong. His character reminds me of a quote I once heard (I don’t remember who it’s attributed to, though,) that ‘every villain is a hero in his own mind.’ I’m sure Neville thinks he’s just dandy and righteous with the Lord and doing right by his countrymen, but it just so happens he’s an asshole- a big one.

The set-up of Rabbit-Proof Fence is kind of standard, not particularity innovative or new for the genre of dark emotionally charged biopics, but there are moments of genuine heartbreak and legitimate darkness. In one harrowing scene, a Aborigine maid hides the runaways in her bed because she believes if they’re in the room, it will prevent her white boss from raping her. It is scenes like these when you get a glimpse of how screwed up these events in history are. It also proves that you can leave some things to the imagination (where they are often just as scary, if not even scarier) when you’re making a movie about bleak historical events. At times I thought this movie could have benefited from showing a bit more of it’s horrific content; it’s not that I get jazzed up by child abuse and racism, I don’t; it’s just that there could have been a little more impact if it hadn’t stayed within the confines of the PG-13 rating. But in a way, they showed enough- enough to give you the idea of what Australian Aborigines went through during this time, the aftereffects of which their still grappling with today.

While Rabbit-Proof Fence is a meditation on a tumultuous time in history, it’s not a bore- slim at just over 90 minutes and compelling for it’s entire runtime, it’s probably a more arresting experience if you know nothing about the film’s social and political events beforehand. I suspect if you know a lot about the period the movie describes, it’ll seem a little lightweight and unsubstantial. It’s one of those movies that, while not hugely original, does hold the viewer’s investment and sympathy throughout and achieves the single greatest thing a film can achieve- it tells a great story. My guess is that if you like these kind of heart wrenching biopics, you, as I did, will be rooting for the girls all the way; and you, too, will have shed a tear by the closing credits.

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Home (2015)

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For lightweight, innocuous entertainment to put the kiddies in front of while you get some work done, look no farther than Home, Dreamworks’ latest star-studded offering. However, if you want something a bit more emotionally challenging and satisfying for adults as well as toddlers, then you might be better off looking for something in the annals of Pixar studios for while Home looks beautiful and is a harmless enough way to spend 90 minutes, it is ultimately like the film’s race of aliens that benignly attempt to invade earth- well-meaning, but silly, shallow, and happily average and unextraordinary.

The extraterrestrial Boov might not be the brightest lights to grace the galaxy, but they’re really good at one thing- skedaddling. In fact, the leader of the Boov, Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin) as made a special point out of running away from whatever scares him. They also have little use for individuality, though they do have a group of supposedly super-intellectual Boov with  giant-sized swollen heads whose job it is to come up with ideas in times of discord.

The Boov could use some ideas right about now. They’re escaping their mortal enemy, the Gorg, which brings them to earth, a baffling planet they benignly take over, benevolently colonizing and herding the humans onto a reservation-like floating island. Then there’s that Boov that nobody likes, the gregarious, overenthusiastic Oh (Jim Parsons.) Oh becomes a most wanted fugitive  when he accidentally sends a intergalactic housewarming party invitation  to the Gorg.

Oh narrowly escapes Boov capture and meets Tip (Rihanna,) a feisty human preteen and the single escapee of a mass earth-wide capture of humans. Tip wants nothing to do with Oh’s kind, being single-mindedly concerned with rescuing her mother (Jennifer Lopez) from the Boov’s incompetent clutches, but they predictably bond and go on the adventure of a lifetime while teaching each other pithy life lessons about tolerating those different from yourself and fighting for what you care about, all to a peppy Rhianna and Jennifer Lopez pop soundtrack.

Home has it’s charming moments, I’ll give it that. It looks good visually, has some good messages, and contains some cute humor regarding Boov’s use (or rather, misuse) of common household objects. I guess everyday life and culture would look baffling to an outsider. But the movie is also dominated by cliches, corny sentiment, and trademark Dreamworks crude humor that detracts more than it brings to the overall viewing experience (I am not a prude, however, I am also not three years old, which is why I was less than impressed with a gag about a an alien drinking restroom ‘lemonade.’)

Every cliche is here; the candid talks while looking out at the sunset, the unlikely friendship which grows from distaste to mutual respect, even the gotcha ‘I thought you were dead’ moment so ubiquitous in modern animated films. Dreamworks seems unwilling or unable to deal with risky emotion or pathos, instead speaking in platitudes and refusing to delve too deep,  which is why it will, always, always be behind Pixar in my opinion.

Pixar delves daringly into real-life issues. Up had the strength to deal with Ellie’s death head-on. Inside Out showed us the emotions of a prepubescent girl, and rang true to anyone who remembered being young. Home doesn’t really have a lot of humor that would tickle someone over twelve’s funny bone, and it really doesn’t have a lot going for it. I got occasional chuckles and an incessant pop soundtrack to punctuate the ‘aaww’ moments. It all rings a bit hollow, and even young kids who are older at heart might see right through it’s flimsy plot cliches and flat characterizations.

Now, I’ll give Home an utterly average rating, but I’m not going to try to dissuade you from watching it with your kids, who might find it perfectly delightful. It’s not a bad movie by any means (better by far than the studio’s 2013 effort The Croods,) just perfectly standard, without anything particularly new or innovative to offer. I just couldn’t bring myself to feel anything, least of all wonder, definitely not emotion. Neither terrible nor particularly worthy of anyone’s time or energy, Home is primarily a Rhianna vehicle (how strange to hear the adult singer voicing a eleven-year-old girl)-  and might serve as a pleasant diversion if you don’t bring up your expectations too much.

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Beasts of No Nation (2015)

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Poor Agu (Abraham Attah.) A young African boy caught up in a war on his own soil that American youngsters can neither understand nor comprehend, he is forced to commit unconscionable acts in order to survive. Fighting as a child soldier against a faceless enemy he has no real understanding of, Agu has little time to mourn the senseless slaughter of his family as he must prove himself to the charming and predatory Commandant (Idris Elba.) As he learns to be a fighter and a murderer, Agu must face the death of everything human in him, and his realization that being reunited with his remaining relatives is becoming increasingly distant and unlikely with each passing second.

Beasts of No Nation is based on a novel by the same title, which I bought on Amazon about a year prior but just couldn’t get into. People talk about ‘first world problems’ so much that it becomes kind of a cliche, but there is still a grain of truth to it. Growing up in America can be hard, unbelievably hard- drugs, mental illness, family strife, gang warfare, bullies, and poverty are just a few of the hurdles many American kids face every day, but there’s a marked difference between us and a kid like Agu. We know with some degree of clarity that we aren’t going to be invaded or have our homes destroyed in all-out war.  We don’t have to worry we will come home and find a crater where are house was, and piles of ash where the people we called ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ once stood.

The film adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s slim novel takes us into a world where safety is excruciatingly uncertain and the only thing between a relatively comfortable childhood and the wreckage of innocence is a group of soldiers keeping up a barrier between ‘home’ and ‘out there.’ This is done with somber immediacy, and held up to scrutiny by Attah’s haunting performance as a boy for whom tragedy becomes a long-standing part of himself. Attah’s astonishing dramatic turn makes his transformation from ordinary goofball preteen to psychologically broken casualty of war completely believable.

The violence in this movie doesn’t have a whole lot of stylized varnish or frills, the difference between this and a Quentin Tarantino movie is daunting, though both are worthy cinematic excursions in their own way. Pedophilia, carnage, wartime rape, and the mass killing of innocents are on naked display, and we see how thin a line there is between a normal person and a person who commits horrific acts is.

Sometimes, all it takes is a push for a everyday citizen, even a child, to act in self-interest and slaughter another human being. We are all just slightly advanced animals. Anyone who thinks we’re morally superior to wild creatures is either a fool or simply mistaken. Agu is not a monster, he does what he needs to to survive and we wonder how many of the men- boys, really- in Commandant’s troupe (many of which are participating in rape, child killing and other wartime atrocities) were just scared little kids unable to hold a gun at the beginning of this long, bloody war.

The script of this movie is incisive and well-written in that like Agu, we are never quite sure what is going on or who is fighting who. This deliberate vagueness gives the film a kind of disorienting feeling that was a good choice on the part of the filmmaker. The only connection to the white journalists and outsiders to this war is the people with cameras who snap pictures of Agu as he walks down a dirt road with an assault weapon. Agu returns their gaze with an appropriately uncomprehending look.

We see the brainwashing process- the pleading man Agu is forced to kill with a machete is obviously responsible for slaughtering his family, because why not? Agu is given drugs and groomed with smarmy words and bullshit political speeches. He is beaten senseless and molested by the Commendant. His only friend, the silent Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye) feels for him but is in exactly the same position he is. We also see how the wealthy profit from a boy’s war, though exactly when and how we are unsure- like Agu, we are cast into an unfathomable situation with very little background information.

Beasts of No Nation is a disturbing movie, but it succeeds in making a conflict we hear about secondhand in the papers feel a little bit closer. Appropriately confusing, erratic, and sometimes downright unwatchable (in a good way,) the film will make you think and, cliched as it is, appreciate what we have in this country compared to what those in war-torn regions only dream of. Safety is relative (especially with the number of shootings in this country spiking) but Agu lives in a reality that, God willing, none of us will have to experience first hand.

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