After choosing to avoid unrest in Athens during their holiday, Beckett (John David Washington) and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) take an impromptu trip into the rural north of Greece, where a tragic car accident leaves April dead. In the aftermath, a stunned Beckett is shaken from his grief when, for reasons unknown to him, he becomes the target of seemingly corrupt Greek police and other hitmen, forcing him on a dangerous odyssey to the heart of a political crisis.
There was one film very firmly in my mind when I was watching Beckett, and it didn’t take all that long for the association to become lodged in my head: The Revenant. That was a movie where I had time for the strength of the lead actors performance, in a film he was obligated to carry almost single-handed through a lengthy running time, but in the end had to admit that it came down mostly to a repeated depiction of pain, misery and other negative feelings. Beckett is another overly-long film with a fine actor in the lead role who needs to scramble around a load of unappealing environments while being shot, stabbed, and otherwise beaten up, and it’s another film where I feel the true talents of that lead have been wasted in what is just another example of misery porn. About the time he started getting stung by bees in an otherwise non-violent scene I realised what I had gotten myself into.
Once we get to the promise of the premise, when a somewhat underused Vikander is killed off, Beckett rapidly becomes less of an engaging mystery and more of a tawdry trip through an austerity afflicted Greece. Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino has been given the time and space to elongate everything, and we spend minutes at a time just focusing on on Washington wheezing in pain, scrambling through the underbrush or just bursting into tears whenever he gets a private moment to do so. Sometimes that elongation serves to give Washington the space he needs to emote, and in a very different fashion to the suave persona he had in Tenet or the somewhat unhinged malcontent in Malcolm And Marie. Sometimes it just means that a vert talented actor is stuck screaming in pain for the better part of two hours, when he isn’t suddenly leaping off the top of buildings for some reason.
This could be forgiven if it was in service to a plot that was worth the trouble, but Beckett doesn’t really work as this sort of quasi-Bourne affair of skullduggery and fist fights in exotic places. The effort to craft a large-scale conspiracy – for risk of spoiling I won’t say much, but the phrase “this goes all the way to the top” is apropos in a lot of ways – doesn’t really work for me, tied as it is to an incredulous man that we don’t really know enough about, other than his seriously impressive tolerance for pain. The film takes too long to add meat to the bones, and where I feel it is trying to keep you on the edge of your seat with the lack of information, it instead only make you recline back and look at your watch. You might be expecting for some issue of race to come into things, after all we have a black man here being hunted through a predominantly white neighbourhood by bent cops intent on murdering him, but Beckett eschews this: whether this is a good choice or not I leave to others to ponder, but I will say that the sort of post-racial environment depicted here doesn’t help any effort the film has at claiming realism.
I don’t want to give the film too bad of a rap. I think it is shot well, even with that overly-patient approach, and it does showcase a different side of Washington’s ability. But overall it’s dull when it doesn’t have to be, doesn’t make the best use of someone like Vikander and loses itself too much in a bit of an unpalatable political message that the film really doesn’t need. There was potential here, but it was squandered about the 10th time we see Washington screaming in pain. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).