2021, Unrated, 109 mins.
John David Washington as Beckett / Alicia Vikander as April / Vicky Krieps as Lena / Boyd Holbrook as Tynan / Daphne Alexander as Thalia Symons / Panos Koronis as XenakisDirected by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino / Written by Kevin A. Rice
I don't have a fundamental problem with new films trying to emulate the genre masters of old, but far too much of the Netflix produced BECKETT came off like Hitchcock for Dummies.
Sure, it boasts a
highly competent lead star and director in John David Washington and
Ferdinando Cito Filomarino respectively (the latter making his English
language feature film debut) and the film's core setup contains modest
interest. But, yikes, this a
total poser thriller if there ever was one: It contains a lot of paranoid
political thrillers from the 70s (like THE PARALLAX VIEW or THREE DAYS OF
THE CONDOR) and, yes, quite a bit of Hitch's own THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Lamentably,
BECKETT is so egregiously paper thin in its plotting and character
development that it becomes awfully hard to care about its wrong man on
the run hero. More often than
not, much of what transpires on screen inspires unintentional laughter as
opposed to genuine thrills.
capable Washington plays the titular role, an American that has been traveling
abroad in Greece with his long-time girlfriend in April (Alicia Vikander).
They spend much of their very brief time in this story early on
making cute and funny observations of the other strange tourists that
surround them on a daily basis, giving each of them silly backstories. Despite the threat of political protests occurring outside of
their Athens hotel, the couple seem content where they are and look
forward to what each day will bring them.
Tragedy strikes very early on for the pair when Beckett falls
asleep at the wheel of their car, causing a dreadful accident that leads
to April's death. Beckett
survives with some horrible wounds, and as he frees himself from the
wreckage he thinks that he sees an adult with a red-haired teenager, but
when he cries out for their help they mysteriously disappear.
awakens in the hospital he's interviewed by local authorities, and he does
in fact tell them that he saw the mysterious woman and kid at the scene of
the accident. What Beckett
does not know is that this kid is the kidnapped nephew of a politician,
Karras (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos), who's facing off against measures imposed
on Greece by the European Union. Karras's
rhetoric and actions have made him unpopular and a target of evil fascists
on the far right. Regretably
for Beckett, the officers that questioned him are not looking out for his
best interests, but instead want him dead, leading to the frightened and
all alone American fleeing the hospital and their determined pursuit of
him. His only hope is to
reach a U.S. embassy in Athens to see an American agent Tynan (Boyd
Holbrook) to seek out not only shelter away from those that want him dead,
but a means to clear his name amidst all of the political unrest that is
ravaging the country.
On paper, BECKETT
sets itself up nicely and I'm usually a sucker for pictures involving
innocent people being forced on the run after being placed within larger
forces and conspiracies that are well beyond their comprehension (the film
is slightly like THE FUGITIVE, but Europeanized).
One of the larger obstacles that poor Beckett faces while trying to
evade capture and most likely execution is basic communication skills.
It's hard to seek help from other native citizens when many don't
speak your native tongue, which adds a whole other layer of nerve wracking
anxiety for Beckett's desperate life saving efforts.
This, unfortunately, also taps into one of the film's greatest
weaknesses: Beckett's whole on-the-lam odyssey is really, really hard
to swallow on multiple levels, especially when one considers his African
American heritage. As a black
American tourist being ruthlessly hunted down by white cop killers, you'd
think that Beckett might be served up considerably more good samaritan aid
than he does throughout the course of this story.
He looks so damn beaten, bruised, broken, and beleaguered here, but
he's largely ignored by so many. Oh,
sorry, he does get befriended by two kindly leftist activists (how
convenient), one played by PHANTOM THREAD's
Vicky Krieps, who does offer him help getting to the embassy, but beyond
her empathy for Beckett and political leanings she has no other
discernible traits. She's a plot device, but not a fully realized character.
And speaking of
underwritten characters, we grow to learn next to nothing of Beckett, his
dead girlfriend (poor Oscar winning Vikander is given nothing to work with
here in a role that could have been occupied by any available actress), or
even the parties that want him dead.
Who are these people?
I mean, these type of wrong men on the run thrillers need, well,
wrong men on the run characters that are likeable and easy to root for,
but Washington's Beckett is a vague abstraction in the film.
For the most part in BECKETT, this victimized man looks sad and
distraught...and that's about it. Washington
is a great talent (see BLACKkKLANSMAN),
and he's more than capable of playing up this man's wounded physicality
and mental trauma, but he simply has nothing really to work with here in
terms of the screenplay making this protagonist worthy of our continued
investment. BECKETT probably
could have benefited from more scenes early on that firmly established
Beckett and April as characters, which would have made her demise ring
more profoundly and his quest to clear his name have more dramatic
urgency. The villains of the
piece aren't done much scripting favors either: they're just cookie cutter
serial stalkers that just want the hero dead.
And as for the political intrigue that transpires around everyone
here? I found myself
struggling to grasp (a) what was happening and (b) what the larger issues
were that violently drive the political divide.
There's also so
much going on in BECKETT that strains even modest credulity.
This is a pretty nonsensically dumb thriller that thinks it's
smart, which is off putting, to say the least.
For example, Beckett seems at times hilariously trusting of
strangers throughout his ordeal, which doesn't make too much logical sense
considering that nearly everyone he comes in contact with wants him dead.
Bad guys also inexplicably prop up at inopportune times and
improbable places, and not because they're expert trackers, but because
the screenplay needs them to unexpectedly materialize to drive the
suspense up. And, man,
Beckett himself is such a ridiculously indestructible character during the
course of the film. This is a
dude that (checks notes) gets stabbed, slashed, shot, punched, kicked, and
survives a hellish car crash that should have taken his life.
Hell, he even later and preposterously survives a crazy high fall
off of a cliff and, late in the film, yet another fall off of the side of
a building down several stories and on top of a moving car.
Beckett isn't a vulnerable Hitchcockian hero: he's more like the
dismembered knight from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.
He just makes it through everything and keeps on going, even
after everything that's thrown at him should have put him in an ICU for
Sure. Uh huh.