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Action thriller ‘Beckett’ lacking in action, thrills

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Sometimes, you look at someone on screen and think “That person has it. They’re going to be a huge star.” There’s just an indefinable … something. Presence. Charisma. Whatever you want to call it.

That said, having “it” isn’t always enough.

Take the new Netflix thriller “Beckett,” for instance. John David Washington is an actor who has that something, that elusive star quality (even if he doesn’t always know how to properly wield it). But while that energy is certainly present in this film, it can’t make up for the thin narrative and assorted odd thematic and tonal choices scattered throughout. He’s able to keep the movie from being outright bad, but he can’t pull it up to the level of being good.

There’s a decent supporting cast, but they’re stuck in the slog as well, plodding their way through the unevenly paced proceedings. Everyone in the ensemble is doing what they can, but they’re ultimately undermined by Ferdinando Filomarino’s uninspired direction and Kevin Rice’s threadbare and derivative screenplay.

Washington plays the titular Beckett, an American tourist making his way through Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander, “The Green Knight”). With political turmoil rumbling – there’s a left-wing coalition led by the popular Karras (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, “Monday”) – the pair decide to make their way out of the city and into the countryside.

On their way into the mountains, Beckett falls asleep at the wheel. The car goes over an embankment and crashes into a house; he is badly injured and April mortally so. Beckett sees a child there, who is quickly ushered out by a woman; Beckett then goes to April’s side.

Beckett is taken to the hospital and then questioned by the police, who tell him how fortunate he was that the house was abandoned. Beckett, recalling the little boy, informs the authorities that the house wasn’t abandoned, that he saw people there. Mad with grief, he leaves the station and makes his way back up into the hills, returning to the scene of the accident with the intention of joining April. But while he’s there, a mysterious woman shows up and starts shooting; one of the cops he spoke to also turns up, with similarly sinister motivations.

And just like that, our man Beckett is on the run through the Greek countryside. With pursuers on his heels for reasons he doesn’t know, he tries to make his way to the U.S. Embassy – a journey that proves particularly harrowing on multiple fronts. When he encounters an activist named Lena (Vicky Krieps, “Old”), she agrees to help him avoid capture and make his way to the safety of protection by his government.

But is he safe? Or is he simply wrapped up in something even more shadowy and sinister than what he has experienced thus far?

Look, I was rooting for “Beckett” – I like John David Washington and I think he has a shot at becoming a significant presence in Hollywood. Unfortunately, this film fails him. Not only do the filmmakers not allow his strengths to come forward, it’s as if they pushed his weaker traits to the forefront. Say what you will about Washington as an actor, but he’s a hell of a lot better than how he shows out in this movie.

The prime culprit remains the script. There’s a lack of coherence to it all that paints the performers into corners. Take the whole thing with April – after she dies, that’s kind of it. We know that Beckett is sad because the script tells him to be, but we never get any sort of sense of who she was or what their connection might have been. I don’t need “The Love Song of Beckett & April,” but a little context would go a long way to making Washington’s sad scenes feel less awkward and forced. Maybe cut one or two of the stretches of Washington lurching through a generically unidentifiable field or down a city street and paint a more thorough picture, you know?

(Oh, and there are no subtitles for the Greek being spoken, so you know – good luck.)

Speaking of – how do you film on location in Greece and not take full advantage? There are a couple of nice exterior shots, but in many ways, “Beckett” biffs the background. You have this gorgeous setting and you’re content to just point the camera at Washington in a medium shot as he stumbles through landscapes that could be anywhere? Opportunity missed.

Washington’s natural presence is dulled considerably by the choices being made around him. One of his strengths is his physical prowess, but there seems to have been a deliberate decision to take that away. In theory, I understand the stiffness, but in practice, it doesn’t work. As I said, he might not be great, but he’s a hell of a lot better than this. Vikander only gets a couple of scenes, but she brings her usual talent to the table. Krieps finds a way to underplay things that works wonderfully, making her the most natural thing in the entire movie. Panos Karonis is solid as one of the Greek cops in pursuit, while Boyd Holbrook chews some scenery as a shady U.S. operative. Still, even the best performances in the world weren’t going to salvage this one.

“Beckett” is a thriller lacking thrills, an action movie short on action. I still think John David Washington is leading man material, but this film did him zero favors. With pedestrian direction and a script that is both thin and convoluted, “Beckett” never stood a chance.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 16 August 2021 08:53

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