[Locarno 2021] BECKETT -- An Attempt at a Hitchcockian Thriller Saved by Its Leading Man
Review by Sean Boelman
John David Washington has positioned himself as Hollywood’s next great leading man, and what better way is there for him to prove himself than by emulating the classic leading men of yesteryear. Eerily reminiscent of Hitchcock’s classics (especially North by Northwest), Beckett is a pretty generic thriller, although it is entirely watchable.
The film follows an American tourist in Greece who, after a tragic accident, witnesses something that he shouldn’t have and finds himself on the run to save his life. It’s a pretty simple “wrong place, wrong time” setup in which our everyman protagonist is forced to become an action hero to his dismay and the audience’s enjoyment.
However, the thing that is missing from this movie to separate it from the greats of the genre are memorable setpieces. There is no crop dusting or Mount Rushmore in sight here — only a few shootouts and some forgettable foot chases. There just needed to be much more excitement for this to work.
Additionally, the film is lacking in its emotional core. The first twenty minutes are designed to attach us to the protagonist before his entire world is ripped away from him, but the backstory he is given is so generic that it feels like filler. By the end, we are rooting for him to do something heroic, but his motivation simply isn’t strong enough.
There also isn’t a strong villain to be found in the script. The protagonist is chased by a few dirty cops, but the fact that this is the extent of his opposition is certainly underwhelming. We hear talk of shadow organizations who are pulling the strings in this situation, but this discussion is limited to exposition.
Washington is definitely doing his best Cary Grant impersonation here, and he manages to mostly pull it off. He’s pretty good as the hero who really shouldn’t be a hero. It’s surprising that he was able to restrain a lot of his natural swagger into something more subtly endearing. And Alicia Vikander and Vicky Krieps are good in their small supporting roles.
The movie is the first English-language feature from director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, who has also served as second unit director on multiple films from Luca Guadagnino. However, the movie lacks the stylistic poise of Guadagnino’s work. What we see here is much more unpolished, even jarringly so at times, resulting in a film that is uglier than anything set in Greece has the right to be.
Beckett definitely isn’t a strong movie despite its talented cast. It’s good enough to be passive entertainment, but it pales in comparison to the iconic films whose beats and style it is clearly trying to ape off of.
Beckett screened at the 2021 Locarno Film Festival which runs August 4-14. It streams on Netflix beginning August 13.
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