BECKETT (NETFLIX) (2021)
SYNOPSIS: Following a tragic car accident in Greece, Beckett, an American tourist, finds himself at the center of a dangerous political conspiracy – and on the run for his life.
Despite being headlined by the lead actor of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’, it is not likely that ‘Beckett’ will get much attention on the Netflix platform or receive the word-of-mouth necessary to overcome its obscurity.
Best described as a throwback to 1970s conspiracy movies, this Euro-thriller about an everyman who unwittingly finds himself embroiled in political trouble is neither exciting enough to satisfy the mainstream crowd or compellingly enough to satiate the arthouse crowd. Indeed, as conceived and directed by Italian filmmaker Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, it is a curious mix of genres that never quite gels together.
It starts off being a romance, introducing us to the American couple Beckett (John David Washington) and April (Alicia Vikander) vacationing in Greece. After hearing of impending protests outside their Athens hotel, the couple have decided to tour the remote parts of Greece. One night however, while driving along a country road to the next hotel on their itinerary, Beckett falls asleep at the wheel, causing the car they are in to fly off a cliff and crash into a house. The impact of the accident kills April immediately, but Beckett regains consciousness fleetingly to see a red-haired boy in the house.
Right from the start, there is something off about the movie. In particular, even as the opening stretch is designed to get us acquainted with Beckett and April in order for us to understand the former’s grief, there is close to zero chemistry between them. Nor for that matter do their conversations hint at any measure of attraction, which unfortunately renders Beckett’s subsequent emotional state hollow to us.
Those expecting the pace to pick up after a slow start will undoubtedly be disappointed. A shootout at the house that Beckett returns to ostensibly to take his own life fizzles out sooner than you’d expect; a subsequent close-shave at the residence of a kind stranger also quickly loses momentum; things pick up slightly during a close-quarter fight on board a train bound for Athens, but again sputters after Beckett encounters two political activists who offers some clues why he is being hunted; and last but not least the extended cat-and-mouse game amidst the commotion on the streets at a political rally is too diffuse to end off on a high.
To his credit though, director Filomarino never oversells his titular character’s capacities. From start to finish, Beckett remains through and true an average guy, and there is a certain scrappiness to the way he fights and tries to stay alive that keeps you invested in his fate. You’ll feel too his wrath when he takes it out against his opponents in increasingly brutal ways, clearly frustrated by how he has been thrust into a situation not of his choosing amidst his personal anguish at having caused the death of his girlfriend. There are visceral moments all right, but the pace is too uneven to qualify as a tense man-on-the-run adventure a la ‘The Fugitive’.
And that’s a pity, because the political dimension could have been a lot more intriguing. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say it has to do with the real-life political crisis that Greece was plunged into following the European Union’s decision to impose harsh austerity measures on the country. Filomarino and his screenwriter Kevin A. Rice do a decent job keeping the plotting close to their chest, recalling the political thrillers of the 70s and 80s but contextualized to the far right v far left battles unfolding across Europe today.
If he was underwhelming in ‘Tenet’, Washington (son of Denzel) is even more nondescript here, playing Beckett so blandly you’d wonder what, if anything, he was trying to convey about his character. Part of the fault is of course how the script never really gets round to figuring out who it wants Beckett to be, but Washington seems curiously unwilling to inject any meaningful qualities into his role, short of acting lost and confused. That we are more enamored with Vicky Krieps’ supporting act as an aggrieved activist just shows how much regard we have for Washington’s portrayal.
For this reason, as well as the movie’s own flaws, perhaps it was better then that ‘Beckett’ would go unnoticed by most. This is no compelling follow-up after his splashy leading act in ‘Tenet’, and we think Washington is probably better off letting this Euro-thriller fade into obscurity. Despite its leisurely pleasures therefore, ‘Beckett’ is too lightweight to satisfy, so unless you don’t mind a trip through Greece, you’re better off watching the classics like ‘The Parallax View’ and ‘Three Days of the Condor’ that it was clearly fashioned after..
Review by Gabriel Chong