"Beasts of No Nation," Cary Fukunaga's drama about child soldiers in an African civil war, opened Friday to stellar notices and earned an impressive score of 88% at Rotten Tomatoes. (Read excerpts of these rave reviews below.) Such critical acceptance should boost the Oscar profile of this first original motion picture from Netflix. The streaming service previously distributed Best Documentary Feature nominees "The Square" (2013) and "Virunga" (2014).
The critics admired Fukunaga's unflinching, visually arresting direction of the film, which he adapted from Uzodinma Iweala's 2005 novel. And they were wowed by teenage newcomer Abraham Attah as a child soldier and Idris Elba as the 'Commandant,' who recruits him. According to our official Gold Derby odds, Elba is the frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actor for this villainous turn.
With the film's visual style also widely praised. Fukunaga could also be an Oscar contender for his cinematograph as well as his work as writer and director, The score is by Dan Romer, who won multiple plaudits for composing the music for "Beasts of the Southern Wild." The intense war sequences also make this one to watch for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
Three of our Oscar experts — top Hollywood journalists who cover this beat for major media including Variety, Yahoo, USA Today, and Huffington Post — are predicting that "Beasts of No Nation" will be nominated for Best Picture.
Those experts betting on the film are Kevin Polowy (Yahoo), Brian Truitt (USA Today) and Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere).
Click on the chart to the right to see our up-to-date Oscar odds and rankings. As our experts update their predictions in the coming days, look for the numbers to get even better for "Beasts of No Nation" and Elba, based on the reception of key critics such as those noted below.
Justin Chang, Variety
"Having moved with growing confidence from a slick Mexican gangland saga ('Sin Nombre') to a tony Victorian lit adaptation ('Jane Eyre') to a crackerjack American crime serial (season one of 'True Detective'), writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls off another chameleonlike turn with this artful, accomplished but not entirely sustained adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 debut novel."
A.O. Scott, New York Times
"That Mr. Elba can be scary and chairmsatic at the same time will not be news to anyone who saw him in 'The Wire' … Gradually though, we see his weaknesses, his desperation and his status as a pawn in a much larger military and geopolitical game. He shrinks before our eyes, and in retrospect our amazement at Mr. Elba's accomplishment only grows."
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
"Agu is the boy, played by a remarkable teenage newcomer, Abraham Attah. With terrifying speed in this unnamed African nation, he becomes a war orphan, and is pulled into the ranks of child soldiers enlisted by a rebel leader known only as 'Commandant.' Idris Elba portrays this seductive force of nature, and it's an extraordinarily rich and troubling performance … There are moments in writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga's film, which opens this week in select theaters and on Netflix, that are nearly unwatchable. Yet I never felt emotionally exploited by the terrors on screen. Rather, "Beasts of No Nation" is an act of gripping empathy."
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"Cary Fukunaga’s stark, beautifully shot drama was likely never meant to be a blockbuster; its brutal account of a child soldier in an unnamed African country is far too discomfiting for wider audiences. It absolutely does belong on a big screen, though, and more important, it just deserves to be seen."
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
"One of the most impressive things about Beasts is that it was able to be made at all, and with such verisimilitude … Central to the film's power and success are the two lead performances. How a child actor could be coached to reveal and project the enormous range of reactions and emotions required for the role of Agu is practically unimaginable, but Attah is persuasive and true and constantly interesting to watch as a boy forced to endure extremes of experience to be wished on no one. The film would not have been worth making without a capable kid at its center, and the director found him."
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Photo Credit: Netflix