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Beast

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“What it all amounted to, oddly enough, was that in his finally so simplified world this garden of death gave him the few square feet of earth on which he could still most live.” ― Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle

More about that quote later. For now, let it be known that Beast is a summer animal-attack thriller leaning to the silly but entertaining side. Doctor Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) takes his two daughters, Meredith (Iayana Hailey) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), on safari. The titular murderer, seemingly unstoppable, is bent on hurting anyone resembling the poachers who slaughtered his pride.

Such is the basis for the shock-scares fantasy characteristic of summer fare that titillates with close encounters between little family and very big lion. Although CGI is fast at work here, it’s soon enough that the audience believes the lion and the fictional adventure are real. Such is the magic of Hollywood.

Other conflicts lie under the obvious man vs animal motif, one being the familial warfare between Dad and savvy, angry teens, who can cry instantaneously or berate dad for leaving the family pre-lion times. Like the lion, however, dad is dedicated to the safety of his pride.

The surly teen is a perfectly obnoxious Mer, as she demands to be called. Where the bonding over survival in the face of the beast will go is so formulaic as to need only this brief warning that it will.

In the opening quote from Henry James’s great short story, The Beast in the Jungle, suggests, a man waiting for something great to happen can waste his whole life waiting for it, if it ever materializes. In this case, Nate’s “beast” is putting off attention to his daughters while hoping to absolve his guilt for his wife’s death, except on this exotic vacation. Sometimes the anger in the kids is as figuratively violent as the jungle king’s.

A third conflict is the crime of poachers, who are so cruelly brutal that anti-poachers become famous and objects of the poachers’ vengeance, all angry like the beast. Although the three parallel “beasts” lend more poetry to the tale than is deserved, it still is admirable that director Baltasar Kormakur and writer Ryan Engle structure Beast to have parallel plots under a unifying theme of conflict.

Idris is as charismatic as ever, the jungle (albeit mostly Australia) beautifully fraught, and conflicts between man, nature, and family all a part of living. Enjoy these in the comfort and safety of a state-of-the art theater: It’s summer after all.

Beast

Director: Baltasar Kormakur (Two Guns, Everest)

Screenplay: Ryan Engel (Rampage)

Cast: Idris Elba (The Harder They Fall)

Run Time: 1h 39m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.