Thursday, August 18, 2022

Beast: Idris Elba Hears the Roar

It is weirdly fun to compare and contrast this film with Noel Marshall’s infamous Roar. In that film, Tipi Hedren’s actual family pretended not to be scared-to-death of the very real lions, rough-housing around them. In this new film, Idris Elba’s fake family make-believes they are absolutely terrified of the CGI lion stalking them. The production of the latter was obviously much more responsible. The law of the jungle still remains harsh and unforgiving in Baltasar Kormakur’s Beast, which opens this Friday.

Dr. Nate Samuels’ family is going through a rough patch. After he and his wife separated, she soon was diagnosed with cancer and quickly succumbed. For his daughters, Mere and Norah, it was definitely a case of “bad optics.” To heal their family unit, Samuels brought them back to his wife’s ancestral home in Africa, where the couple’s mutual friend, Martin Battles works as a wildlife ranger (and possibly an underground anti-poaching activist).

Battles thought he would take them out on a nice photo-safari. Instead, they stumble across a village that had been decimated by a rogue lion. That would be the big one that escaped the poaching gang during the prologue. Uncharacteristically, he keeps ripping and gnashing his prey, without stopping to feed, because he is mean-mad with mankind, so when he sees the Samuels’ range rover, he starts hunting them too.

certainly has an environmental message, but it is a worthy, focused point. Tragically, there has been a surge in lion poaching, to meet the demand for increasingly rare tiger bones, which are used as an unfounded remedy for impotence in regional folk “medicine.” This is an illegal trade China (supposedly Africa’s best friend) could surely curtail, but the CCP isn’t doing that at all. Maybe the big cat should pay them a visit.

Regardless, there is no question the big guy is the star of
Beast and the CGI animating him looks surprisingly lifelike. Its movements are convincingly realistic and his behavior is suitably ferocious to create tension and suspense. However, the film never really instills any “personality” in him, beyond a vengeance-hungry killing machine.

Frankly, Elba is one of the only prominent thesps who has sufficient size and strength to look like he could survive a scrape with an angry lion, without resembling an action movie caricature. Yet, the most charismatic work comes from Sharlto Copley, as the rough-around-the-edges but humane Battles. However, the script makes the kids relentlessly annoying. Over and over, Dr. Samuels tells them not to wander off, because they are being hunted by a highly motivated lion. So, what do they always do? Immediately wander off somewhere.

Kormakur keeps the action moving along nicely, wrapping everything up in just over ninety minutes. Cinematographer Philippe Rouselot (who also lensed Annaud’s
The Bear) does justice to the African landscape and helps amplify the suspense with some crafting shooting techniques. Despite the weak dialogue and annoying kids, the film keeps the viewer hooked, so it earns something like a 70% passing grade. Recommended for discounted matinee screenings, if you want to see something new in theaters this weekend, Beast opens nationwide this Friday (8/19), including the AMC Lincoln Square in New York.