John David Washington Shines in Pleasantly Oldschool Action Thriller Beckett

It’s a shame we won’t be able to see Beckett on the big screen. While the film is far from perfect, director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino delivers something far more appealing than its dreary trailer would suggest. There are exotic locales, as we might expect from a mainstream thriller, but after a few early postcard shots, the action settles into the familiar rhythms of the man on the run.

The man on the run, in this case, is an American tourist in Greece called Beckett (John David Washington). After the late-night car crash that kills his girlfriend, April (Alicia Vikander), he finds himself in an impossible-to-understand situation. The officer handling his case, Xenakis (Panos Koronis), and an unknown woman (Lena Kitsopoulou) start shooting at him. It’s not the case that he’s been accused of wrongdoing, rather that he has become the pawn in some inscrutable scheme. The early sections build tension around the stress of being lost in translation. Those Beckett stumbles across in the north of Greece speak little, if any, English. Communication is frantic, halting. Even when he does manage to find someone willing and able to help, the pursuing officer is there to wreak havoc on anyone standing in his way.

The inability to communicate, combined with the violence nipping at his heels, forces Beckett into a desperate mission to reach the US Embassy in Athens. In the trailer, this idea came across as forced, even jingoistic. Fortunately, the film handles this much better than I feared. His task, essentially, is to find a way to arrive somewhere where his situation can be communicated clearly. The enemy, as it were, in these early stretches is precisely his inability to communicate. He knows he is in an extraordinary situation, but there’s nowhere he can turn. Beckett is stuck inside himself until he finds a sympathetic, rather, comprehending, ear.

Aid arrives in the form of Lena (Vicky Krieps), a German political activist in Greece protesting the kidnapping of a political leader’s son. She speaks English and, when Beckett claims to know something about the missing child, believes what Beckett tells of his situation. It is here that the breadth of what he doesn’t understand grows. From here on out, he’s not just caught within the language barrier but finds himself caught in the net of political corruption.


In time, Beckett does find himself within the walls of the US Embassy. Here, an agent called Tynan (Boyd Holbrook) takes charge of his case. He is initially sympathetic, though in a curiously nudge-and-wink sort of way. From this point on, the film takes on the familiar twists and turns of political, perhaps conspiracy, thrillers. The outcome manages to be both more elusive and commonplace than some of the possibilities offered earlier in the film, but it is in this that the final stretch manages to pack a punch. Beckett isn’t an action hero, though he is generally competent in an unlikely fashion. The skirmishes he gets into are desperate fights for survival. He gets by on an honest desire not to get sliced open. John David Washington expertly portrays this. Despite his obvious physical prowess, he is constantly on the back foot. When, at the very end of the film, he performs an altogether reason-defying leap onto the bonnet of a moving vehicle, the impression isn’t one of action-hero bravado, but of end-of-the-tether perseverance.

Beckett is far from perfect. There are holes in the narrative logic. There are lulls in the action. However, this is the rare action/thriller that trusts its audience. The Greek dialogue is left untranslated, putting us in a position similar to the protagonist. Washington delivers a solid performance, as does the rest of the cast. This is the type of mid-budget, no-frills mainstream filmmaking of which I wouldn’t mind seeing more. It may ultimately be a shallow genre exercise, but it beats the hell out of vacuous comic book films every day of the week.

Beckett is on Netflix now.

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