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Rumble in the Jungle: Beasts of No Nation

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Beasts of No Nation

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

While undergoing mandatory initiation — some of it colorfully ritualized, some deeply humiliating — into a unit of mostly adolescent anti-government soldiers in an unnamed, junta-led West African country, pre-teen Agu (Ghanaian first-timer Abraham Attah, a natural on camera) is deposited by these potential comrades-in-arms in a fully dug grave. “You must die before you are reborn!” booms the voice of the Commandant (Idris Elba, in a tour-de-force), a man who can be either extremely sweet or violent but not much in between. Beasts of No Nation, directed by genre-magician Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, True Detective), has been labeled and marketed as a film centering on the young combatant, but the formidable Commandant is no less a principal subject.

To reinforce the symbolic significance of death, they add Agu to the other candidates for membership in this fairly autonomous rebel group lined up in front of a firing squad, which executes them with blanks. He passes muster. (Shortly after, the visibly shaken, hesitant boy is forced to kill a pleading prisoner with an ax to the skull — but the sudden rush that overcomes him will motivate him in upcoming confrontations.)

These murders may not be fully distinctive from the real thing in their culture, but they are, for Agu, nothing compared to the ongoing

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