REVIEW: Elba and B-movie excitement salvage ‘Beast’

Some of Idris Elba’s characters in his career would probably stand a good chance beating a lion, such as the sword-wielder Heimdall from the “Thor” series or the sharpshooter Bloodsport from “Suicide Squad.”

Unfortunately for his character in “Beast,” Elba plays just a regular guy who has to protect his family from a big cat in Africa. He portrays Dr. Nate Samuels in the film, father of Norah (Leah Jeffries) and Meredith (Iyana Halley).

Nate is trying to rebuild his relationship with his daughters in “Beast,” after the two girls lost their mother and felt their dad wasn’t around enough. Nate’s plan is to bring the family on a tour of a wildlife reserve where his friend Martin (Sharlto Copley) works. Things are going well enough until they are attacked by a vicious lion and are placed in a battle for survival.

Like most films where animals attack, “Beast” has a pretty basic set-up. A person and/or group is separated from civilization and have to fend for themselves against a dangerous predator.

There aren’t many ways to reinvent the wheel in the sub-genre, so it really comes down to execution in areas like pacing, characters and suspense scenes. When looking at “Beast,” the execution ends up putting the quality of the film somewhere in the middle.

The characters in “Beast” are likable enough, yet the dialogue and drama between them can feel quite forced. Plus, while there’s plenty of entertainment from the lion attack thrills, the pacing can seem clunky.

Courtesy Universal Pictures.

Director Baltasar Kormakur and writer Ryan Engle simply didn’t find the right balance when blending the B-movie, creature feature elements and melodrama of the characters. The result is a disheveled film.

It doesn’t turn into a train-wreck, far from it. Yet the film is definitely lacking in areas.

Truth be told, the lynch pin holding this film together and making it fairly watchable is Elba. The Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild-winning performer does a lot of heavy lifting in “Beast,” making it a much better film.

Elba has proven himself in dramatic roles and action performances, and he shines again with both elements in “Beast.” His character is a guy without much Safari training but he’s a resourceful, smart and tough person, as well as a man who’s trying to be a better father. Elba brings all of that to the screen convincingly.

“Beast” could have been a below average thriller but Elba does enough to make it worth seeing. Plus, the film’s lion attack scenes can keep a person hooked and the movie gets some help cast-wise by Sharlto Copley who does solid work during his time on screen. 3 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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