A stumbling, loosely conceived action thriller that lacks conviction but has atmos, cinematography and music of mood, to recommend it
MA15+, 110 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
This latest film with lead actor, John David Washington, is a straightforward actioner without any of the fluctuating time and space of sci-fi in Tenet, where the actor was also the protagonist. It is rooted in the tangible, real world where nowhere is safe for a man on the run, the eponymous Beckett who is an American tourist.
The locations in Greece are definitely enticing, especially in a locked down world. Among the dry and bony hills dotted with olive trees, the pine forests, the stony hillsides and mountain peaks, and the people who live in the villages and farms outside Athens.
As some political demonstrations are due to take place in the city, Beckett and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) have decided to take a trip through the countryside to avoid the possible political unrest, and take in the ancient cultural sites like Delphi. When they take their eyes and hands off each other.
Their idyll ends when Beckett falls asleep at the wheel on a winding mountain road. The couple never reach their next hotel. The car rolls several times and crashes through a barn, an accident that leaves April dead and Beckett injured.
The next day, the odd behaviour of the local police escalates with Beckett shot at when he revisits the site of the crash. He escapes but with more injuries, and is a man on the run for reasons he doesn’t understand.
A flight from nameless antagonists and the search for justice from a faceless, corrupt authority has had a really good workout now and then, in films like The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, based on the classic television series. Action with Liam Neeson continues to work the formula hard.
A solid actioner overlain with political intrigue will always work, even if the first and many of the best hark back to the political thrillers of the 1970s. Beckett draws inspiration from these, and does effectively build an atmosphere of paranoia, but it is weak on a number of key points.
The screenplay is by Kevin A Rice, and it is directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino. The director had celebrated talent onside to make a strong contribution to the film’s look and feel, people like film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, winner of multiple international awards. But the unsettling and sinister aspects of his score are handled clumsily, telegraphing a soon-to-become-apparent threat long before it appears.
Other aspects of the production are not well handled. Another director could have ensured that the actors weren’t left high and dry with some ridiculous lines, such as the dialogue between Lena (Vicky Krieps) and the fugitive when she offers to take off his handcuffs ‘if he likes’. The fugitive’s wrists are immobilised with cable wire, as if he would have wanted to keep them on. And then she produces bolt cutters out of nowhere.
It wasn’t the only time there was a laugh-out-loud moment as the script spelt out the obvious. And this from a screenplay which found a way to include the word ‘festoon’.
If you don’t think you’ve heard of the director Filomarino before, you are probably right. This is his first feature, though many aspiring directors clear this hurdle quite comfortably.
If you tire of the drama, there is always the way Beckett looks. Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom has worked on films like Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and with Luca Guadagnino on Suspiria and Call Me by Your Name. It isn’t just the DOP’s perspective on the rural vistas outside Athens that is compelling, it is the feeling and mood of the city itself, its fractious citizens and the graffiti everywhere.
In Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi blockbuster Tenet, John David Washington had trouble carrying the film as well, even more of a challenge when the audience is struggling to get a handle on fluctuating time and space. This new action thriller doesn’t work so well for the actor either.
Washington is not a natural in the genre like his dad, Denzel, who tends to deliver more with less. Young Washington can look physically ill at east too, surprising in someone who was once a professional sportsman. Yet he was in his element in BlackkKlansman, in a role that was much better suited to his talents.
First published in the Canberra Times on 22 August 2021. Jane’s reviews also appear on Rotten Tomatoes