If there were any question marks still floating over Cary Fukunaga’s credentials, his latest film, Beasts of No Nation, should flick them aside with ease. Based on the acclaimed novel by American writer Uzodinma Iweala and boasting staggering performances from both of its lead players, Abraham Attah and Idris Elba, Fukunaga has delivered one of the most viscerally stylized war films in recent memory. The Africa-set drama is a relentlessly violent, vibrant, and electric film that is at once as druggy and entrancing as Coppola’s 1979 cut of Apocalypse Now and as sonically inventive as Elem Klimov’s Come and See.
Beasts of No Nation is the fictional first-hand account of Agu (Attah), a creative, intelligent figure who, following a brutal separation from his family, ends up fighting for a squadron of child soldiers as civil war and genocide rage in the unnamed nation around them. Elba plays the group’s bewitching Commandant, a manipulative, Boko Haram-styled father figure acting as Fagin to Agu’s Oliver Twist. Under his tutelage, seduced by the lifestyle, look, and machinery of war, and fueled by revenge and the hope of reuniting with his mother, Agu slips down the rabbit hole.
The latest film from Thomas McCarthy, the actor-turned-director behind The Station Agent and Win Win, focuses on the Pulitzer-winning Spotlight team from the Boston Globe who, in 2002, published an article that blew the Roman Catholic Church’s abuse scandal wide open. It’s a rather broad account of the events covered in the exposé and yet, in a way, is not so much about the events covered but the covering of the events. It’s about the nuts and bolts of pre-internet age investigative reporting, and about how actors who aren’t from Boston love to talk like they’re from Boston. Spotlight is no All the President’s Men, but what is?
We begin, as you might expect, in Boston in the early ’90s as a bishop is consoling a family in a local police station. A child has been abused by one of the bishop’s clergymen, and both boy and priest are present in the room. Dirt is swept quietly below the rug as the Bishop and Priest leave the building and speed around the corner in a jet-black convertible with tinted windows. Christmas lights drape down on the surrounding houses. Subtlety, it would seem, has left the building, and it won’t be rearing its head anytime soon.