By Oliver Gettell
October 15, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
  • Movie

Filmmaker Cary Fukunaga’s harrowing drama Beasts of No Nation juxtaposes the grim toll of war and the innocence of a child. Based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala, the film stars Idris Elba as the Commandant, leader of an army of young soldiers in an unnamed country in West Africa, and Abraham Attah as his new recruit, Agu.

During an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, Fukunaga told EW that he first read Iweala’s book a decade ago, when he’d been mulling making a film about the war-ravaged region.

“I’d already been researching the subject and really trying to figure out how to write a film about the wars that were taking place in West Africa,” Fukunaga said. “[Beasts] is just one of those stories that grabs you. It’s really simple, it’s all from this kid’s amazing perspective on his place in the world and this terrible situation, and how he’s struggling to survive it.”

Elba added that viewing the story a child’s eyes helped humanize the tragedy. “Here’s a kid that’s 10 years old,” he said. “So what you see in the film is a moment in this kid’s life, something that we can all relate to, whether it’s based in Africa or not: Familes have dinner together, they have jokes, it’s a simple life. I think Cary’s really, really clever to try and give that to the audience so they can understand where this characters starts, and where he ends up.”

For more from Fukunaga, Elba, and Attah, watch the video above. Beasts of No Nation hits theaters and Netflix today.

2015 movie
  • Movie
  • Unrated
  • 136 minutes
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