After debuting on opening night at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, Beckett arrives on Netflix as another in a long line of films about ordinary men caught up in extraordinary circumstances. The movie takes obvious cues from ’70s thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and Hitchcock masterpieces like North by Northwest, yet director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, fails to capture the visceral paranoia and propulsive narrative momentum of either. Instead, the movie plods along as John David Washington, in the role of the title character, alternates between expressions of shock, grief, and desperation.
The movie begins with Beckett, a tourist from Ohio, and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) enjoying a trip in Greece. The pair were in Athens but when they learned that an upcoming political protest would disrupt their quiet getaway, they decide to travel elsewhere in the country. This is how they find themselves driving on a lonely road in a remote small town at night – a drive that ends in a horrific crash where their SUV flips down a hill and plows into a house. When Beckett comes to, he sees a young boy who’s quickly pulled away by a woman and then finds a lifeless April, who’s been thrown from the wreck.
After being treated at a local hospital and questioned by police, he returns to the scene of the accident where he’s approached by a blonde woman (Lena Kitsopoulou) who raises a gun at him and starts shooting before he can process what’s happening. She’s soon joined by Officer Xenakis (Panos Koronis), the policeman who spoke to Beckett following the crash, and Beckett realizes he’s being hunted, although he has no idea why. Beckett’s goal becomes to get to the safety of the U.S. Embassy, but it’s across the country and the people coming after him seem to be everywhere. Beckett proceeds through Greece little by little, relying on the kindness of strangers, including Vicky Krieps’ activist Lena, while dodging the bad guys targeting him for reasons that snap into place as his harrowing journey continues.
Washington is in almost every frame of Beckett, but while he’s made quite an impression in films such as BlacKkKlansman and Malcolm & Marie, he isn’t nearly as compelling here. Washington goes through the motions, running, fighting, and hiding as required, yet Beckett never completely registers as a fully fleshed out person. As a result, it’s challenging to invest in the character or his situation. This is especially true in the third act when he transforms from victim to avenging angel seemingly apropos of nothing. Part of the problem is that though the plot hinges on a larger political conspiracy, its intricacies are pushed to the side in favor of spotlighting Beckett’s predicament. However, that gives the audience very little to latch onto, making for a thriller that’s less than thrilling.
Filomarino, who’s served as second unit director for Luca Guadagnino on Call Me By Your Name and other films, and director of photography Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, create some visually gripping images that juxtapose the beautiful and the horrifying, the everyday and the exceptional. Yet while the director has clearly studied the movie’s genre, Beckett never resonates emotionally, making it feel like a slog instead of a heart-pumping adventure.