It’s actually good to just have a movie like Beast where Idris Elba fights a lion in a world where studios try and create cinematic universe. A lean, vicious, lion-fighting machine, Beast is the most recent film by reliable Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur. It is the kind of corny yet compelling popcorn thriller that used to rule the cinema. It’s not a movie you can truly get poetic about, but it’s difficult to resist idealizing a picture that just shines in its niche and provides all you could possibly desire from a film of this nature.
Dr. Nate Samuels, a recently widowed man, travels to the Mopani Reserve in South Africa with his teenage daughters, Meredith and Norah. The biologist and Mopani manager Martin Battles, who first met Nate and his wife, welcomes him back to the village. Nate and the girls are taken to the village where Nate’s wife was raised by Martin. In the midst of his and his wife’s divorce, which was led by her terminal cancer diagnosis, Nate admits to Martin his sorrow for being distant. He is travelling to connect with his daughters again.
The next day, Martin and his family visit the restricted areas of the reserve. Martin shows them a neighbourhood lion pride and notes that one of the lions is hurt. He finds that the most of the Tsonga residents in a nearby community have been killed. He runs back to report the incident, fearing a rogue lion is responsible. Nate encounters a wounded Tsonga guy on the road but is unable to assist him. As Martin runs after the lion, he gets assaulted. Then, as Nate hides in the car, it ambushes him. Meredith tries to flee but instead smashes a tree, trapping them.
On a walkie-talkie, Martin warns Nate to stay away as the lion is using him as bait to lure the others out. Nate puts together a tranquillizer gun because the radio is too far away to call for help. In an attempt to keep the lion long enough to rescue Martin and take him back to civilisation, he charges the animal. Meredith uses the diversion to divert the lion from attacking Martin. After the lion knocks Nate’s rifle from his hands, Norah stabs it with a tranquillizer dart, causing the lion to retreat. While Nate attends to Martin’s wound, Meredith transports him to the car.
As night comes, Martin, who is now healing, speculates that the lion got rouge because poachers killed its pride. The poachers show up shortly after and at first agree to take the group to the village in exchange for cash. When the poachers notice Martin, a fervent anti-poacher, inside the vehicle, tensions increase. When the lion fights and disperses the poachers, the majority of them are killed. Nate escapes the lion and discovers the truck keys that belonged to the poachers. Back at the car, Martin manages to keep the lion at bay long enough for the sisters to escape, though Meredith suffers a major side wound. Martin sacrifices himself by sparking an explosion caused by the gasoline leak, severely burning the lion, as the car falls down into a ravine. Nate starts up the truck and drives off with Meredith and Norah.
Nate checks to Meredith’s injuries inside the abandoned school the poachers used as their headquarters before searching for water. He returns and chases the lion away as it approached the girls and roamed around. When Nate is through with the lion, he locks his girls in a room and promises to return. Nate lures the local lion pride into an opening by drawing it and then brutally kills the rogue lion during the fight when the lion nearly kills him. As Nate is about to faint, a Mopani worker comes there and saves him.
When Nate wakes in a hospital, he tells his girls that he loves them. The three recreate the picture Nate’s late wife shot of herself next to her favorite tree when they later visit the preserve together as a family.
THE GOOD/ THE BAD
Even without the rogue lion’s vicious behavior, Beast is a tense movie, but there is still a lot of excellent craft present. The main action takes place inside the Safari Jeep as the characters hide inside. Hoping and praying that the lion won’t discover them and tear out the windows. Philippe Rousselot’s claustrophobic cinematography suits the situation. But, when they depart and go exploring, Idris Elba is the centre of attention, just as in a third-person adventure video game.
There is a real anxiety from trying to predict the direction of the lion’s coming attack by taking this crowded picture directly to the characters in the wild. Also, the photographer took wide-angle images of the lion perched on a rock in a corner. While this is already a stunning shot, it quickly becomes even more dramatic as the king of the jungle heads straight towards Nate (who is running towards the camera trying to escape).
Unsurprisingly, the poachers reappear in Beast, but the writing smartly avoids being overly formal about the obvious. Only the most crucial parts of the family drama remain. Baltasar Kormákur is able to focus on the danger and clever hunter scenarios as a result (everything from especially administered tranquillizer darts to tree climbing comes into play), easily with a doctor on hand to treat some nasty injuries that pleasantly double as bloodily amusing imagery.
There are times to praise both man and beast, which show the balance between character and thrills, overcoming the repetition. Also, Idris Elba turns into a beast and punches a lion in the face, which is interesting enough.
With everything taken into account, Beast is one of the best late-summer film. It has a top-notch cast, improved production quality, and a strong moral message at its core against poaching. Beast exceeded my expectations because I didn’t have high expectations for it based on the reviews and ratings.