Beckett starts quickly with thrills and a pulsing score, but as the mystery begins to unravel, it ends up being yet another thriller that copies Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959).
John David Washington is cementing himself as being one of Hollywood’s next great leading men. Although some of his films haven’t worked, like Malcolm and Marie (2021) or Tenet (2020), his performances are quite strong, and you see that he has a passion for each role he plays. Now, he joins Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, who has worked with Luca Guadagnino as a second unit director, to deliver a thriller about international conspiracies and treacheries, inspired by cinematic works of the 1970s.
While vacationing in Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander), Beckett (John David Washington) has a car accident and crashes into a house beneath the hills. He then becomes the target of a manhunt, forcing him to run for his life across the countryside to get in touch with the US embassy and clear his name. Tensions escalate when the authorities close in on a political protest which causes Beckett to fall deep into a web of lies, deceit, and conspiracies regarding a lost child.
What starts as an escapade turns into a red herring. You get over twenty minutes developing two characters; one we will follow for the rest of the film and the other that we are supposed to mourn for with the lead. The film tries to force some dramatic scenes regarding loss while being lied to and drags quite a lot. You want Beckett to begin running or escaping elsewhere because that is where most of the fun is.
Of course, it blatantly copies North by Northwest; the train rides, the girl who joins the ride, the classic hunter, the cliffs, everything. The only thing missing was the plane chasing him down. Be that as it may, it isn’t that bad. The sequences are nicely put together, and you are entertained as Washington keeps running and hiding from place to place. The problems don’t come from copying a classic but from the pacing, script, and layout.
You need an excellent central narrative idea with a strong ending for a picture like this to work properly. Beckett doesn’t have that. There are moments where the film settles down for a few minutes to give some exposition but then immediately goes into the cat-and-mouse game for lengths of time where it develops the plot. You just want it to calm down for a second so the audience can think about the concepts it wants to throw down.
Washington in the titular role is nice fitting, polishing into quite a good actor. Like Cary Grant in one of Hitchcock’s thrillers like To Catch a Thief (1955) or the previously mentioned North by Northwest, however, the one thing missing is the suave demeanour. In some scenes, it isn’t called for such an attitude as the film is based on a man searching for truth amidst gruelling treachery, though some wit could have been smothered around the titular role.
The supporting cast doesn’t have much to do. Alicia Vikander gets killed off in the first few minutes of the movie, and Boyd Holbrook isn’t his menacing self like in Logan (2017) or the TV series Narcos. The only exceptions are Vicky Krieps and Panos Koronis. Koronis plays the hunter, the one tracking Beckett’s every single move, and he does it quite well, but that is the only thing he is given to do. Of course, he isn’t the lead and doesn’t have the greatest amount of screen time, though you want some depth in his character to be more engaged with the narrative.
On the other hand, Krieps delivers charm and tenderness, which is what Alicia Vikander’s character should have poured into the film during her scenes. Not that she did a bad job, just that her presence isn’t that powerful to care for her. Nevertheless, Krieps is the supporting character that brings a smile to your face every time she pops up into the picture; the problem is, her screen time is minimal. It is unfortunate because the movie’s advertising sells it like she is along for almost the entire ride. However, if you are still aching to see more of her, she has leading roles in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old (2021) and Mia Hansen Love’s Bergman Island (2021).
In the end, Beckett tries to do something new with the genre while gushing many inspirations from the 1960s and 70s thrillers. There are some beautifully shot sequences, a nice score from Ryuichi Sakamoto, and interesting ideas meshed around the Greek scenery. However, it doesn’t hold together well due to the structure, and the plot twists not being that well developed. Filomarino has a nice touch that is still under construction, but with a little bit more experience on his back, he might deliver a pure pot-boiling nail-biter with his next feature.
Originally titled ‘Born to be Murdered’ and set for traditional theatrical release before the distribution rights were acquired by Netflix and the title changed to ‘Beckett’.