I have really liked John David Washington in a number of recent things he has done such as BlackKklansman, HBO’s Ballers and even Sam Levinson’s self-indulgent two-hander Malcolm & Marie, which he managed to navigate with impressive talent. He was fine in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in an action role but unfortunately doesn’t have the same luck as a Greek vacationer who doesn’t know why he is being targeted by the bad guys in Netflix’s new suspense thriller, Beckett.
Not to be confused with the superb 1964 Richard Burton-Peter O’Toole Oscar winner Becket (no, this is not a misspelled remake), this movie aspires more to the Hitchcock template of innocent-man-caught-up-in-dangerous-circumstances-he-can’t-control movies — or, more to the point, director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s inspirations of the paranoid ’70s thrillers such as Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View. If only! Filomarino, a disciple of, and who has worked as second unit director for Luca Guadagnino on films like Call Me by Your Name in addition to his own films, gets cover from his mentor (one of several Italian producers credited) for his first english language feature directorial effort that is just too derivative to be taken seriously in the company of films it counts as direct influences.
Washington, almost never off screen, just isn’t quite able to engage us as Beckett, an average Greek tourist on vacation with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander, wasted in a brief supporting role) when tragedy intervenes and he falls asleep at the wheel. His van rolls over and eventually crashes into a remote cabin, where a couple of people briefly appear in the faded background before mysteriously disappearing. He awakens in a hospital room, where he is confronted by local authorities with some serious questions for him (guess who they are looking for?). He knows nothing, but instead of cooperating fully, he goes on the run in a panic, whether by foot, by bus, by train, hitching rides, etc., giving the injured Beckett, broken arm and all, a chance to do his best Jason Bourne – except he doesn’t possess the skills of that guy.
But the filmmakers here are more interested in what would happen if an average guy got stuck in this kind of circumstance — a stranger in a foreign country just wanting to find his way back to safety in the American embassy. But you have to know he is paranoid, not able to trust many people, even those like Tynan (Boyd Holbrook), who appears there to help. Or Lena (Vicki Krieps), a political activist he grabs a ride with. It all gets very convoluted as he finds himself trying to extract himself from one ticklish development after another (even, with arm in a cast, incredibly jumping out an office-building window a few stories down onto the roof of the car of a bad guy — c’mon).
There isn’t much plot in this thing as Beckett spends most of the time being clueless and just trying to survive, and that includes in the midst of political demonstrations. Washington does his best here, changing his expression from perplexed to freaked-out as he gives the stuntmen stuff to do as well (the star reportedly did most of his own, though). It is clearly his film, but it sadly doesn’t move his promising career forward much. Apparently there are 17 nationalities represented in the cast, as well as an able international crew, all led by an Italian director delivering a movie that gets lost in translation (fortunately, dialogue is minimal, so it should travel well). As a respite from Covid worries, this trip to Greece is at the very least nice to look at.
Check out my video review with scenes from the film at the link above. It begins streaming August 13 on Netflix after debuting today at the Locarno Film Festival.
Do you plan to see Beckett? Let us know what you think.
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