Nothing is so heartless or chilling as forcing a child to become a soldier in a war no one understands. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga ("True Detective" and the memorable "Sin Nombre"), working with screenwriter Uzodinma Iweala who wrote the book on which it's based, have fashioned a riveting saga where we watch a bucolic childhood in some unnamed African country turn into a hellish nightmare.
For 137 long minutes, we see children shanghaied into a fighting force and transformed into merciless killers. When we realize the lengths they must go to in order to survive, we can't help but wonder what sort of effect these hardships will have on their future.
As I watched the Commandant use his effective Call & Response to goad his army of children to a fighting frenzy, I was reminded how effectively this method works in the evangelistic world. As I watched the use of drugs by the fighters as they tried to blunt their fear, I was reminded of how drugs have been used by fighting forces since time eternal. Some things never change.
This is R-rated (language, rape, and bloody murders) but my major concern was this: Who would pay their discretionary money to subject themselves to something this chaotic (in the firefights I could never tell who were the "good" guys or what they wanted), confusing (who is rebelling from whom and why?), and bewildering (are the "good" guys really good?). I have no problem with the quality of the acting; Elba is always outstanding, even when he is playing someone as morally compromised as this guy, but personally I want someone to root for. That one pathetic little boy has been so transformed it becomes a stretch....
Oh, by the way, if you have any hearing problems, be sure the theater offers captions.