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The Comedy of Errors

Film Review: Beckett

17 August 21 words: Sebastian Mann

John David Washington stars as an American tourist caught up in a Greek political conspiracy in this flimsy but watchable Netflix thriller…

Director: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
Starring: John David Washington, Boyd Holbrook, Vicky Krieps
Running time: 108 minutes

The working title for Beckett was “Born to Be Murdered,” which is just as generic and would perhaps better suit a cheap mystery paperback you’d buy in an airport, but it does a better job at grabbing your attention. Though the name-change to “Beckett” was at the behest of Netflix, as they sadly continue their trend of stripping film titles of excitement – the most egregious example remains changing the name of Scorsese’s 2019 gangster epic from the aptly haunting “I Heard You Paint Houses” to simply “The Irishman” – it is a symptom of the grander problem with Beckett: there’s just not much there. 

Washington fronts the film as the eponymous, mononymous Beckett, an American tourist holidaying in Athens with his girlfriend, April (Alicia Vikander). As political unrest in the city worsens, with dissenters baying for blood on the streets, they set off for a hotel deeper into the country to escape any potential danger. After some bland back-and-forth banter between the ostensibly in-love couple and the inevitable tragedy that kicks the plot into gear, Beckett ends up alone in the Greek wilderness, racing to make it safely to the U.S. embassy as a pair of deadly killers hunt him down. 

It has all the trappings of a paranoid political thriller, from the far-reaching bureaucratic corruption to the tense chases through the cluttered, busy streets of a European city, and Beckett is a refreshingly incompetent hero. Washington has proven himself as a capable action star with his charismatic lead role in Nolan’s latest mind-bending actioner, Tenet, but here he does as convincing a job looking surprised when guns go off and only just managing to flee clumsily on foot in time. But he remains remarkably resistant. As he navigates the wilds, he leaps from cliffs onto trees a la Rambo, and brushes off gunshot wounds with a surprising sense of composure.

By the time you reach the climax, which boasts a truly baffling use of slow-motion, much of the film’s sense of momentum has been drowned out

Eventually he becomes embroiled with German activist Lena (Vicky Krieps, who appears to be undergoing a career boom after all but disappearing from the mainstream following her turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 masterwork Phantom Thread), who is pushing for answers about the disappearance of a politician’s son. Krieps, alongside Vikander, ultimately feel a little underutilised, both barely on screen for much more than 15 minutes. The film’s most memorable presence is the score by maestro composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Though largely incidental, its sharp orchestral sound heightens both tension and thrills. 

The story moves predictably from beat to beat, shining brightest in its gritty and authentic portrayal of a city on the verge of democratic collapse. Director Filomarino’s (who shares a Story By credit with screenwriter Kevin A. Rice) best work is in the background details, creating a backdrop for the narrative that grounds the action and gives everything a sense of urgency. The film is at its most engaging as it tracks through the believably staged, tumultuous city of Athens while protests fill the street. 

It’s a shame, then, that Beckett has little purpose. There are a couple of thrilling set pieces, one involving a train and one involving a multi-storey car-park, and the action is punchy and has weight to it, but Beckett’s a little too flimsy to keep you fully invested until the end. It starts out needlessly slowly, and though it cuts to black with seven minutes of credits, its 110-minute runtime is simply too long. Its pulpy thrills get lost in the humdrum, and by the time you reach the climax, which boasts a truly baffling use of slow-motion, much of the film’s sense of momentum has been drowned out. 

Did you know? The movie was shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, known for his work on Call Me By Your Name and the 2018 remake of Suspiria

Beckett is available on Netflix

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