Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Taylor Baker
“Beast” opens on a nighttime exterior sequence where we witness the exposition arc of the titular beast, a male lion whose entire pride is gunned down by poachers on a nature reserve in an unidentified African countryside. This sequence underlines both the weaknesses and strengths buoying the film. The nighttime sequence is overlit with the poachers using low-quality flashlights that scarcely beam into the low-lit but clearly “lit” landscape and foliage. The poachers in a ragtag semi-circle formation with rifles staggered in line against the man in front of them’s ears fire off dozens of shots. This is instantly followed by the men speaking to one another in hushed whispers where no one says “What?”, “I can’t hear you.”, or raises their speaking volume as one is wont to do when their ears are ringing. This sequence removes the gravitas of believability and realism from the film in an instant. These flaws paired with meticulously choreographed cinematography accounting for every inch of dirt and multiple characters entering and exiting a single take provide a sense of joy and sincerity to the sort of screenplay we typically see cast with a big name and otherwise left for dead on the technical side. No, Philippe Rousselot whose credits include “Constantine,” “The Nice Guys,” “Interview with the Vampire,” and “Big Fish” clearly put more thought and nuance into most of “Beast’s” takes than anyone who handled the screenplay did.
Idris Elba plays Dr. Nate Daniels, who following his wife’s death takes his two daughters back to her home to see an old friend who works on the nature reserve and show his daughters their mother’s home. As soon as they depart the plane the daughters begin emoting their respective one-note personality traits. Norah, the youngest wearing a long sleeve shirt with jeans begins lamenting the heat and asks for one of those fans that squirt water. The other after being called Meredith (her name), reasserts for the sake of the audience that her name is Mere not Meredith–she’s mad at her Dad in case we didn’t know. It’s worth noting that despite the dialogue informing us of the sweltering dry African heat in addition to Norah being dressed incorrectly, Idris is wearing a coat and jeans, and Mere is wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up, not a single one of them is sweating, no sweat stains adorn the clothing, and yet the camera work is labored and elaborate forcing in quality while the dialogue and story cement weaknesses. What father wouldn’t respond to a kid wearing a long sleeve shirt complaining of the heat to take off the long sleeve and just wear the T-shirt underneath? We’re meant to believe this father, who will go on to treat wounds with nothing but some alcohol and an old medical supply box is such a fool.
For a long stretch of the film, the family is stuck in a Jeep while being harassed by the lion, this set piece is used effectively both for the narrative and the suspense sequences giving the viewer a sense of isolation despite it forcing the Daniels family together. The lion it’s worth noting is very well animated and compensated for in the frame and while not quite photorealistic is well drawn into the sight lines. The lighting rarely betrays its absence before the post edit and each of the performers was well coached on engaging with the proper portion (head, mane, foot, etc.) of the lion. There’s a handful of screw-ups but they’re often timed in the middle of an engaging action sequence that keeps you from dwelling on any of those particular errors for long.
“Beast” is a strong entry in the slew of late summer action films in recent years. With more prowess than the likes of “Skyscraper,” “Rampage,” “The Dark Tower,” and their ilk. Though it languishes from a CG blur finale action sequence, the journey there though flawed is often harrowing, fun, and engaging.
“Beast” is in wide theatrical release.