Streaming dominant Netflix is taking major strides to get into the feature film fold. The tough-minded drama Beasts of No Nation, written and directed by Cary Fukunaga , might be the most ambitious title yet to emerge from the streaming service. The film recently held its world premiere at the just started Venice Film Festival, and if early reaction is any indication, might be a game changer not just for Netflix, but the industry at large.
The film centers around a young man named Agu (newcomer Abraham Attah) and his experiences as a child soldier fighting a civil war in an unnamed African country. The film is based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala and co-stars Golden Globe nominated actor Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). Fukunaga, a chameleon-like filmmaker rose to early prominence with his acclaimed 2009 drama Sin Nombre. Since then, the director has shepherded a critically respected take on the classic Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak) and Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and won an Emmy Award for his work in directing the admired first season of the HBO anthology drama True Detective.
Early word out of Venice on Beasts is strikingly positive. Peter Bradshaw, in his Guardian review, called the film, “A very powerful and confidently made movie, a film that really puts its audience through the wringer, which finally refuses any palliative gestures, with towering performances from Elba and Attah.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy sufficiently said the film was, “Grim, grueling and gripping.” Beasts of No Nation is included on the roster to play both the Toronto and London film festivals and may perhaps show on the Telluride Film Festival line-up as well.
Early praise is good for Netflix and may well help as the streaming service aims for an awards run with the film. There are limitations however, as Netflix will make Beasts available to stream on the same day it will hit theaters. The majority of the major theater chains (AMC, Regal, etc.) refuse to play titles that are accessible in other platforms- this restricts Beasts theatrical output. Currently, the film is planning on opening on a mere 29 screens across the country, all of which will be arthouse theaters. Upstart Bleecker Street Media is handling the theatrical run.
However, it’s something the industry as a whole is going to have to put major thought into moving forward. Especially considering the ambitious output of feature films in the pipeline over at Netflix (as well as rival Amazon Studios). Netflix has the Adam Sandler vehicle The Ridiculous Six, a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Brad Pitt-headline War Machine forthcoming.
Beasts of No Nation opens in theaters and will be available on Netflix starting October 16th.