A round of applause should be given to Abraham Attah too…
The unending names involved in the production of this child war movie; Red production, Participation Media, Levantine films, New balloon, Mutressa movies, Primary production, Parliament of owls and Netflix for its distribution, show that this movie is definitely not low budget.
I love this movie and no, it is NOT because of Idris Elba’s (Commander) biceps. The story, based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala and scripted by Cary Fukunaga (who doubles as the director) is set in an unnamed African country. It tells of the horrors of war through the eyes of Agu (Abraham Attah), an 8 year old narrator who does a lyrical voice-over in improper English in the opening scene: “Our country is at war and we are having no more school…so we are finding ways to be keeping busy…” ‘Busy’ becomes the quest for survival as education transforms from what is learned in the classroom to what is learned in the jungle when the war proper erupts. A glaring example is the metamorphosis of the children’s’ playful mood to the bashing open of people’s skulls in the heat of war.
“My father say outside, people are suffering but here, we are safe…” was the calming statement made by Agu before he watched his family butchered by the rebel soldiers. In the movie, we see that war has no religion and conscience and this is depicted by switched loyalties, sharp cutlasses and brutal massacres of innocent victims of the war.
In the period of wandering in the jungle, the paths of Agu and Commander cross and the message of purpose rears its head as Lord Commander gives the child soldiers purpose and the promise of avenging the deaths of their loved ones and reclaiming their unnamed country(looked like Ghana or Sierra Leone to me. Why the suspense though? Hian! Idris Elba’s accent though…#ilove. What I couldn’t get over was the fact that he seemed to be confused over speaking with a Nigerian or Sierra Leonean or Ghanaian accent.)
Lessons to be learnt from this movie are abound. The themes range from pain, vengeance and a subtle infusion of under-aged homosexual relations between the predator commander and the young boys in his care. This film is also very Africa with traces of traditional beliefs in it. We see familiar scenes where the boys are cooked and empowered with juju a.k.a jazz just before approaching the enemy. (Lol. Talk about the power of jazz since 1880! Was I the only one who noticed that seniors punishing juniors didn’t start from the boarding house? The senior soldiers made life difficult and withheld food from the new recruits though this was labelled a rite of passage. Yimu!)
It is also glaring that hypnotized is the mind that wields the gun. Leaders of war go as far as prepping the minds of individuals before equipping them with guns. War is first won in the mind. This accounts for the periodic talks during their hideout and provides a perceived justification for their acts of murder.
The graphical depiction of this story must be applauded. While violence should not be encouraged, the producer spares no thoughts for the sensibilities of the viewers as he shows gore after gore, shot after shot and rape after rape to depict the harsh realities of things that go on in warring countries. We see these child soldiers raping those old enough to be their mothers, beheading men old enough to be their fathers and smoking copious amounts of weed not meant for sane individuals. We also see that politicians are good ‘fuelers’ of war by the amount of resources they contribute to favor them. We see friendships in abnormal scenarios (Striker and Agu) and how death comes for us all. We see the bid to seek the help of the supernatural “…Father I can only be talking to you because I know God is not listening…” when problems arise.
Towards the end, we see vulnerability and the infallibility of man. The child soldiers who are “strong and proud” lose faith in their ‘cause’ and abandon their commandant to die alone in the jungle.
Truly in war, no one wins. “…Every person I am knowing is dying” says Agu and this triggers him to turn on the commander and surrender to the Federal forces. He is put in the rehabilitation scheme and Agu says that despite the fact he is young, he is “…not like baby…I am like old man” due to the things he has witnessed despite his young age.
From start to finish, my eyes were open to point out flaws but I found almost none. (And no, I was not carried away with Idris Elba’s chest… Ok…maybe a little…) While some may find faults with the depiction of violence especially by children, the misplaced accent of the commander and the subtle inconclusiveness of the movie, what’s Jollof rice without a burnt pot?
A powerful gripping tale told in 133 minutes. A must watch.