CGI magic can only take a film like “Beast” so far.
The thriller follows a family under siege from an out-of-control lion, one created by Hollywood’s best zeroes and ones.
What the story demands is a human element, a reason to fear the digital creature in the first place.
“Beast” delivers that with its charismatic lead aching to make amends for past mistakes. It’s that element, not the wildly convincing “Beast,” that elevates this woke-free adventure.
Idris Elba stars as Nate, a doctor visiting an old friend in South Africa. That’s Sharlto Copley playing an “anti-poacher,” a man dedicated to keeping wildlife safe from savage humans.
Nate brought his daughters along for the trip, but Mere (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) are more than your average sullen teens. They’re still hurting over the death of their mother, a loss that complicates their feelings for Dad.
He wasn’t present during Mom’s final days, or so they believe.
That situation gets plenty of screen time, and rightly so. The young actresses sell their pain, and Elba’s Nate understands he can’t make amends with one safari adventure.
He’ll have to prove his worth in a far more dangerous way.
A local lion is ravaging the region, attacking humans at an alarming rate. Copley’s character, who intimately knows animal behavior, is confused. Lions don’t behave this way, he says over and again.
This “Beast” does, and Nate’s family is its next target.
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“Beast” feels like a spiritual cousin to “Jaws” as well as any film pitting man against natural predators. The terrain may be wildly different, but the tensions flow from real fears we all have in varying degrees.
Should we swim in the ocean today? Is that safari vacation trip as safe as the brochure says?
“I want to see more Black girls get parts that aren’t just the sassy [friend] or live in the hood,” #BeastMovie star Leah Sava Jeffries says. “I want to see them smart and the number one lead.”https://t.co/EzCvmnENJv
— Variety (@Variety) August 17, 2022
What director Baltasar Kormákur (“Everest”) does well is retain enough realism to ground the story. Nate’s medical skills come in handy – huge spoiler alert! – but he’s no superman.
The lion isn’t behaving like most oversized cats, but his ferocity doesn’t feel conjured from thin air.
The early confrontations between man and beast ring partly true, so we’re invested in what happens next.
That’s why it’s a shame Kormákur’s discipline betrays him during a critical, third-act confrontation. Your eyes will roll, a chuckle will catch in your throat as the suspension of disbelief floods the theater.
To paraphrase President Joe Biden, c’mon, man!
Otherwise, “Beast” moves swiftly, giving us engaging characters and more than enough reason to root for Nate’s brood. The rest belongs to Elba, who treats the material with Shakespearian intensity.
Had “Beast” hit theaters in the 1980s, our hero would be duking it out with the lion or ripping off his shirt before a key battle.
Elba’s Nate is a Dad, not a warrior, but his paternal instincts can’t be denied. You could argue the lion never had a chance.
And, at a perfect 90 minutes in length, “Beast” never comes close to overstaying its welcome.
HiT or Miss: “Beast” is a taut adventure that never skimps on the humanity of the would-be victims.