Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, based on Uzodinma Iweala’s book of the same name, comes to the Criterion Collection, the final part of Netflix’s initial slate of physical media releases on the boutique label.
Beasts follows an average boy, Agu (Abraham Attah), as he loses his parents and siblings and finds a new life as a child soldier under the vicious Commandant (Idris Elba). Agu’s life as part of the gang is a bleak existence of violence and pain but also one of camaraderie and purpose. Fukunaga’s handheld camerawork (not initially the plan, according to the excellent special features) makes the film feel incredibly intimate. The thoughtfulness of his approach to Agu’s experience from idyllic beginning to crushing end displays the director’s dedication to really showing how gangs of displaced men and boys operate — how they rile each other up, how they fight for the sake of belonging and, therefore, survival.
It’s an unsparing film and feels as relevant today as it did in 2015 when it first found release. The film won some accolades but also stood out as Netflix’s first foray into the realm of awards-worthy cinema. Fukunaga went on to make Maniac, a miniseries for Netflix, while Elba has gone on to maintain his sterling reputation but never embrace a role as villainous and despicable as the Commandant since (although perhaps that will change with Sonic the Hedgehog 2).
The physical release is a 2K transfer and it looks as good as you could expect from the home-video Blu-ray release of the film. Although still (eternally) available to stream on the service, there are several special features that dive deep into the film in the way special features ideally should but often no longer do. Passion Project is a documentary produced for this set that features in-depth interviews with everyone involved in the production, including Fukunaga, Iweala, Elba and Attah, as well as producers Amy Kaufman and Riva Marker. This is not a collection of interviews filmed for advertising purposes. All of them go deep into their experience making the film, openly discussing what they see as its successes and failures. It’s a great documentary on its own and a special feature that makes this home release worth buying even if you’re a monthly Netflix subscriber.
Additional special features include a commentary track for the film, an interview with costume designer Jenny Eagan and a conversation between Fukunaga and Black List creator Franklin Leonard.