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Beast Review: Lion Taming 101

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If we dr. Nate Samuels (Elba), he appears like any other series of unforgettable lead roles by Idris Elba. He’s handsome, stoic, and seems surprisingly excited to take his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) on a trip to their mother’s birthplace. There are the usual pleasantries with their guide, family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley), and the usual gags about the girls having to survive without Wi-Fi or cell service. But it’s not until they have their first dinner in South Africa that it becomes clear that this is no ordinary getaway, but a Hail Maria from a man who has no idea how to handle his children during their shared grieving process.

Nate and his wife separated just before she got sick, so he left her for his kids when she needed him most. Two teenagers won’t be the best arbiters to judge the endless complexities of a grown-up relationship, no, but Elba’s eyes, which show faint unspeakable regret beneath his crumbling facade of stern fortitude, prove their accusations aren’t far removed from his own guilt .

But unpacking all those thorny emotions wouldn’t justify a title like “Beast” or a marketing campaign akin to a Godzilla vs. Kong jungle set, pitting everyone’s favorite fan-casting theme against a literal lion for… what, patriarchal ones Supremacy? It turns out that Martin is an anti-poacher and big game hunters plague this community. The Vengeful animal from the film’s violent prologue, in which the titular creature absolutely eclipses a bunch of armed mercenaries, is on a bloody quest to eat and maim all living things in his path after losing his (literal) pride.

The film could certainly do better on this collision course like a price war, but it falls short where it matters most. There’s an obvious thematic connection between Nate and the lion’s grief, her untimely outbursts, and her inability to process the tragedy that has now defined her. Obviously a guy snapping at his kids and being a little too short is miles from a wild animal eating innocent people, but the implied kinship is there.

The film’s screenplay, by author Ryan Engle, fails at all to lead the family drama through the genuinely harrowing survival thriller that “Beast” abruptly turns into, making it feel like avoiding all those early tears, um maybe getting to the fireworks factory even earlier would have been a better way. But it’s also apparent that as a director, Kormákur had very little interest in exploring that side of the narrative from the start, as evidenced by his coming to life when Nate’s family and the lion first crossed paths.

From there, he and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, for lack of a better term, begin sleight of hand and stunts that hit the viewer hard, cavorting in armed, immersive camera movements and patient long takes to repeatedly pound the audience with erratic punchlines. Somehow, the dedication to photographing the surroundings with such panache and majesty helps keep this immensely effective trick from going stale.

But unfortunately it’s just not enough…



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