Beckett (streaming on Netflix) is a slow-burn thriller, with a lot of slow and not enough burn. It is about an American on vacation in Greece who ends up running for his life from people hunting him for mysterious reasons. He is an ordinary guy in the wrong place at the wrong time due to unfortunate circumstances, in a country where he doesn’t speak the language and has no idea who to trust. Those plot elements have certainly been combined to create effective thrillers in the past. Plus, it stars John David Washington, an actor I like. So it comes as a surprise that Beckett turned out to be quite boring.
Beckett and his girlfriend, April, are headed toward a bed and breakfast when Beckett falls asleep at the wheel and crashes their car into an abandoned house. Upon returning to the scene of the accident, he is immediately shot at. The rest of the movie consists of him running and occasionally fighting the group that is after him, while also sort of trying to figure out what he has gotten caught up in. I say “sort of” because the story is paced like a character study, with little interest in actually delving into the intrigue it keeps hinting at. It is mostly a political conspiracy thriller in theory.
Though it is paced like a character study, featuring many quiet scenes of John David Washington (as Beckett) attempting to figure out how to survive, we never really learn much about his character. “Scared” and “confused” are the only descriptors I can confidently use to define him. Is he nice? Funny? Brave? Smart? How healthy is his relationship with April (played by a tremendously underutilized Alicia Vikander)?
The opening spends time showing them together before the plot kicks in, but it is just basic flirty banter. Beckett is never explored as a person. This means that, when he starts doing some fairly amazing (not to mention difficult to believe) things to survive, I have no idea if he’s an everyman reaching deep within himself in desperation or if he knows what he’s doing. I assume the former but, really, he could be anybody.
The action, when it comes, is intimate and violent. It fits that it is less “glossy Hollywood special-effects” and more “physical brutality.” However, since Beckett always felt like a plot device, as opposed to a real person, there was no suspense.
The action is fine, the conspiracy aspect is undercooked, yet does have the necessary pieces, and the screenplay is good at making Beckett seem alone and exposed. The biggest problem Beckett has is Beckett himself. John David Washington brings very little to the role. There is nothing beneath the surface here. His energy is low and there is no variety in his performance. Sometimes Beckett is slightly more angry than he is scared or vice versa; that is as deep as this gets. Take away any personality and you just have the story of a guy running around Greece while bleeding. It is about as entertaining as it sounds.
1½ out of 5
John David Washington as Beckett
Alicia Vikander as April
Vicky Krieps as Lena
Boyd Holbrook as Tynan
Directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
Screenplay by Kevin A. Rice