Film scores

Soundtrack review: Beasts of no nation (Dan Romer – 2015)

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“Beasts of No Nation” is a 2015 American war drama film written, shot, and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga about a young boy who survives as his country goes through a horrific war. The film, based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala and shot in Ghana, stars Idris Elba. In an unnamed West African country, when civil war tears his family apart and militants kill his father, a young boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) is forced to join a unit of mercenary fighters led by the ferocious Commandant (Idris Elba), who takes him in as a child soldier. The score for this Netflix film was written by Dan Romer who’s been having a great year so far. If you haven’t heard “Tomorrow we disappear”, you should.

I am sure that the tender beginning of this score will only make us feel ever deeper the drama that will follow. “A good family” is a flute driven theme which makes me dream of a nice and quiet life. Nice and quiet is how I would describe the music as well. Year of minimalism, you know the drill. “No boy, no bargaining” is the kind of Brian Eno like ambient cue that just warms me up and makes me instantly enter my dream world. The way the composer introduces a dark shadow towards the end is brilliant and makes this cue seem like a sunny day which suddenly gets very cloudy.

I never get tired of ambient music, especially when it’s done right. Dan Romer knows how to travel the dark and dreamy paths of atmospheric film music and he displays it here. “Leaving home” is the kind of reflective cue I could listen to over and over again; I could get lost in it and let my imagination just drift away. Just when I was getting comfortable with this score the composer gets experimental with percussion beats in “I saved your life”; this only makes “Beast of no nation” feel even better.

Another intriguing cue is “These are the ones” which gives me the impression of looking at a dusty road when the earth is shaking. I can almost see all the pebbles trembling and almost levitating. Then it’s back to wonderful, meaningful and out of this world ambient music with cues like “Helicopters” and “Better look me in the eyes”. I adore cues like these. This is my favorite sound and Dan Romer nails it time and time again… If you are a fan of great ambient music this score will be a wonderful gift. I think that right now there is no better composer at ambient music than Dan Romer and I can’t wait to hear more from him.

“Beast of no nation” will be different than what you expect from a war drama score. It will be better. The music doesn’t focus on the horrors and drama of the outside world but on an intimate, internal world that tries to survive in all this. For me it is one of the peaks of the year of minimalism in film music.

Cue rating: 97 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 39 / 44

Album excellence: 88%

Highlights:

A Good Family

No Boy, No Bargaining

Leaving Home

I Saved Your Life

These Are the Ones

Helicopters

Better Look Me in the Eyes

Are You Watching Us?

Guns Up

A Song for Strika

Surrender

Back to the Ocean

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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