Netflix's first venture into feature filmmaking, "Beasts of No Nation," debuted at the Venice film festival on Thursday and the first wave of reviews for this intense war drama are raves. Emmy champ Cary Fukunaga ("True Detective") pulled triple duty: he adapted Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 best-selling novel, directed and did the lensing. The film follows Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy forced to fight in the civil war tearing apart his West African country. Idris Elba ("Luther") is the commander of a guerilla sqaud who turns the boy into a soldier.
"Beasts of No Nation" is expected to unspool at Telluride this weekend before being showcased in Toronto as a Special Presentation on Sept. 14. On Oct. 16, it will be launched worldwide on Netflix AND stateside in select Landmark theaters. That timing is the key to its Oscar campaign. As per Rule Two (section 2), for a film to be eligible for Oscar consideration it must screen in a theater in Los Angeles county for at least one week. And, as per Rule Two (section 3): "motion pictures released in such nontheatrical media on or after the first day of their Los Angeles County qualifying run remain eligible.”
This could be the role that nets Elba, a Golden Globe champ and Emmy nominee for "Luther" his first Oscar nomination. Critics are making special mention of him in their enthusiastic endorsements of the film (see below). And our experts have him in second place, behind Tom Hardy for his work in "The Revenant," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's follow-up to last year's Oscar champ "Birdman." After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar predictions for Best Supporting Actor. Don't worry, you can keep changing them right up until nominations are announced on Jan. 14.
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter): "Starting out with what could have been a cliched figure of a charismatic egotist lording over a bunch of helpless youngsters, Elba keeps revealing more and more layers of his troubled character, to the point where the Commandant begins to assume Shakespearean proportions as a Macbeth-like figure who may not really have what it takes to be a completely successful and enduring despot. The actor keeps pushing his characterization further and further to the rather surprising end, never taking the easy way."
Justin Chang (Variety): "Elba hasn’t had a big-screen part this substantial since he was cast as a very different kind of African leader in 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' (2013), and in his skillfully underplayed performance, the Commandant emerges as both a charismatic villain in the grand Hollywood tradition and a persuasive product of his environment."
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian): "It is a tale of fear, degradation and abusive dysfunction – a violent and disorientating nightmare with a shiver of Coppola’s 'Apocalypse Now.' Idris Elba gives an outstanding performance as a charismatic and sinister warlord who finds that military power, however intoxicating, is subject to the fickle imperatives of politics, and the suit-wearing opportunists in the cities far from the country badlands he has come to rule."
Demetrios Matheou (Thompson on Hollywood): "Elba gives it an altogether different edge. For a second the Commandant, who talks of the boys as his family, almost persuades us that Agu is in safe hands. But he’s no Mad Max, leading the lost children to salvation; rather, he’s preparing them for the 'transition' into warriors, into his “sleeping beast” that will murder all before it … It’s a nuanced, troubling performance – troubling, not least, because we derive so much pleasure from watching a very human monster."
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Photo: Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation." Credit: Netflix