(director/writer: Cary Joji Fukunaga; screenwriter: novel by Uzodinma Iweala; cinematographer: Cary Joji Fukunaga; editors: Mikkel Nielsen/Pete Beaudreau; music: Dan Romer; cast: Abraham Attah (Agu), Idris Elba (Commandant), Ama K. Abebrese (Mother), Kobina Amissah-Sam (Father), Jude Akuwudike (Supreme Commander Dada Goodblood ), Emmanuel ‘King Kong’ Nii Adom Quaye (Strika), Emmanuel Affadzi (Dike); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Bill Benenson, Laura Bickford, Fiona Drukenmiller, Jamal Daniel, Donna Gigliotti, Ted Sarandos, Pauline Fischer, Sarah Bowen, Elizabeth Koch, Kristina Kendall, Nnamdi Asomugha, Elika Portnoy, Todd Courtney, Mark Holder, Peter Pastorelli, Uzodinma Iweala, Tommee May; Netflix; 2015-in Twi and English with English subtitles when needed)

An effective but difficult war film to sit through without wincing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A nightmarish violent art-house war drama of child soldiers in an unnamed country in West Africa (shot in coastal Ghana). American writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga(“On The Ice”/”Sin Nombre”/ “Jayne Eyre”) savagely captures the brutality of an ongoing seemingly endless civil war and the sheer inhumanity of the conflict against civilians. The Rebels kidnap and train their child captives to be guerrilla fighters, while the government forces can be cruel to those in the rural villages. An effective but difficult war film to sit through without wincing. It’s based on the 2005 novel by the Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala.

Idris Elba is the unforgettable rebel commandant, an overbearing and brutal warlord who trains children his army captures as soldier. One of the children is the playful Agu (Abraham Attah, Ghanian actor), a happy child from a middle-class family of three where dad (Kobina Amissah-Sam) is a teacher and mom (Ama K. Abebrese) a God-fearing woman. Watching the innocent child transformed into a killer was heartbreaking, in a performance that was startling. The kid’s family is slaughtered, he must behead a captured civilian with a machete and as a reward he’s given heroin to keep him hopped up as a warrior. Elba’s chilling performance as an unethical psychopathic warlord was powerful. When onscreen you couldn’t take your eyes off him.

All the warring forces fighting for the psyche of the crippled country are evil, whether it is the corrupt government or the power-hungry rebels. It’s a sad film that reflects the terrorist-driven world we live in. We see the war through the child’s eyes as he tries to hang on to his humanity in the Third World country and tries to get back his bearings when captured by the UN peacekeepers.