An interesting thing that happens –or perhaps more accurately doesn’t happen– in Beckett is that when it comes time to be an action star, the title character simply isn’t one. Neither superhuman nor particularly competent, Beckett, played by John David Washington in a role that asks him to carry an entire movie, is just a guy on the run and doesn’t have any dark past, specialized training, or even a penchant for 80s action movies. That, in and of itself, is a little refreshing.
The film itself, though –a stylistic throwback to the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s– only works despite itself. Gorgeously shot, decently acted, but overlong and simple to a fault, this is one on which your mileage will definitely vary.
The story starts in the mountains of Greece with Beckett and his girlfriend (Alicia Vikander) on holiday, having left their carefully planned itinerary for a spontaneous visit to a tiny B&B, away from the political protests happening around Athens. There are jokes, lovey-dovey moments, and silly games, but en route to their secluded mountain hideaway Beckett falls asleep and crashes their car into a building. In that building, he sees something he shouldn’t have, and from that point on, he is relentlessly pursued as he tries desperately to clear his name.
The setup is about as simple as it gets. The rest of the movie is simply John David Washington scrambling from one scenic village to the next, trying to outrun the bad guys, and minimize collateral damage wherever he can.
The plot gets a little repetitive: he gets to a place, meets someone who can help him, the bad guys show up, and he escapes with increasing improbability. This cycle is one of the film’s problems that you can only see this so many times. Another is that it becomes increasingly predictable how and when the bad guys will show up, or indeed already be there.
Still, it does actually work despite this, and while it takes too long to get to the ending, John David Washington is a charismatic enough performer to carry the film all the way to the end. He has help, too, with Vicky Krieps (seen most recently in Old) along for the ride as an activist who takes pity on him and Boyd Holbrook as exactly the character you think he’s going to be the first time you see him.
This, plus director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s eye for composition and capturing the Greek countryside, make Beckett work. It’s a little bit too long and a little bit too thin on plot to be great, but if you like conspiracy thrillers, then it will certainly have something for you.
Beckett will premiere on Netflix this Friday, August 13th.
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