***1/2 OUT OF 4
Filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”, “Jane Eyre”, “True Detective”, Season One) makes an amazing film about a civil war in an unnamed African country as seen through the eyes of a bright, carefree casualty of this tragic circumstance. The little boy soldier whose name is Agu (a remarkable Ghanaian discovery– Abraham Attah) becomes separated from his family who are murdered during the chaos of local discontent and falls under the control of a warlord known as the Commandant (a chilling, Idris Elba) who turns him into a warrior/ killer by addicting him to heroin (“brown-brown) and indoctrinating him into blind obedience.
Fukunaga based his screenplay upon a 2005 debut novel by Uzodinma Iweala but changed the narrative flow to make a more understandable story. The original novel has many flashbacks and a present –tense disposition.
In Elba’s virtuoso performance, The Commandant is portrayed as a monster in the classic Hollywood tradition with a lethal swagger and a lack of empathy for others. He wishes to achieve complete control and nothing is going to get in his way.
Fukunaga has a distinct visual style to his work and he is credited as cinematographer as well as producer-director. The rich landscape of coastal Ghana displays vibrant jungle greens and a searing sun. This film paints a brutal portrait of modern day guerilla war. If there is a weakness to the film it is not being able to capture the psyche of the child-soldier to its fullest extent.
The biggest obstacle that faces this film is, since it debuted on Netflix, it is not being picked- up by theaters that show specialty films. It reflects on the growing problem of a shrinking theatrical market for independent films.
By Rob Goald