A film review by Craig J. Koban August 24, 2021


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 Xenakis

Directed 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. 

The always 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.  Hmmmmm.... 

When Beckett 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.   

Worst.  Vacation.  Ever. 



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 weeks.  Yup.  Sure.  Uh huh.  You betcha.   

At least Greece looks good in BECKETT.  We have that.  Alas, a decent leading man and picturesque vistas do little to compensate for this thriller's vast shortcomings.  The stakes rarely, if ever, felt large in the film, not to mention that - on a basic level of tension and intrigue - so much of what Filomarino dishes out here seems fairly underwhelming and pedestrian in execution.  That, and BECKETT's manhunt presented within will most likely generate more sarcastic snickers from viewers than the makers would want, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit when I wasn't throwing up my hands in the air out of sheer bewilderment.  Between this and the slightly worse MALCOLM & MARIE from earlier this year, Washington's films with the streaming giant leave a whole lot to be desired.  

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