Idris Elba has a captivating presence, as evident by his roles in the Thor films or his starring turn as Luther. But in Beast, a man versus animal feature set in a South African game preserve, Elba shows exactly the range of his acting chops in an exciting showdown with a lion with his family at stake.
Director Baltasar Korm?kur (2 Guns, Contraband, Everest) knows how to set the stage and provide some snappy, incisive shots of the action. In the case of Beast, he’s able to drum up the suspense (and a bit of terror periodically) by showing the audience glimpses of the lion, close shots of the effects of the lion’s murderous rage. As Elba’s widowed Dr. Samuels takes his two daughters (Iyanna Halley, Leah Jeffries) to meet up his old biologist friend (Sharlto Copley), he’s unaware of just how terrible a fight he’s getting into, and the audience only knows glimpses of what he’s getting into, thanks to the focus on the beauty of the African landscape Korm?kur highlights.
What is let on early is that poachers have royally ticked off a lion, slaughtering his family, and that the good – doctor, biologist, kids – have a positive relationship with lions in general, but the ticked-off lion can’t tell the difference between the good (our heroes, unnamed villagers) and the bad (poachers). It becomes not a battle between good versus evil, but a battle for survival and the protection and/or vengeance owed a family.
Beast isn’t the kind of movie aimed at winning an Oscar but it’s gripping, and beautiful, at the same time. It’ll churn up the adrenaline, ask you to occasionally bench your common sense, and provide a satisfying, albeit shallow, dive into how one recovers from grief in the midst of community.