The “wrong man” trope has a long cinematic history. It provided the basis for at least three Alfred Hitchcock classics – The 39 Steps, North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much. But it probably found its most intriguing form in the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, like The Conversation. Now director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino updates it in the Netflix film Beckett.
The film is basically one long chase sequence as the title character has to escape a band of ruthless assassins, never knowing who to trust. But the Italian director brings a particularly European viewpoint to the film. He leaves many questions unanswered, allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks. So the film operates on two levels, as a straight-up thriller, or as a more cerebral exercise. Which you favour is up to you.
The film opens in northern Greece, where American couple Beckett (John David Washington) and April (Alicia Vikander) are touring some ancient ruins. They stay a little longer than planned, so have to drive at night through winding mountain roads to their next hotel. But Beckett falls asleep at the wheel and the car careens off the road and into a house. Dazed and injured, Beckett sees a man with a red-haired boy. Then he finds April’s body before passing out. He wakes in hospital and is soon well enough to discuss the crash with the police. Bilingual Officer Xenakis (Panos Koronis) seems quite a reasonable chap and doesn’t arrest Beckett over the crash. When Beckett mentions the red-haired boy, Xenakis says that can’t be right, because the house has been abandoned for some time.
A few days later, Beckett walks to the scene of the crash to try to make sense of it all. Just as he’s surveying the scene, a blonde woman (Lena Kitsopoulou) arrives – and starts shooting at him. It soon becomes apparent she’s in cahoots with Xenakis. With these armed and powerful people on his trail, Beckett desperately sees a way to get to Athens and the safety of the US embassy there.
I found Beckett an odd film in many ways. It has all the trappings of a classic thriller, but it always felt a little off-kilter to me. Filomarino uses the “stranger in a strange land” scenario effectively. The mostly rural setting and the director’s deliberate choice not to translate the large passages of Greek dialogue add to the feeling of disorientation. The time frame too is a bit murky, though it seems to be in the early 2010s when Greece was wracked by anti-austerity protests. But the background story about Greek politics is a bit lacklustre, and doesn’t really mesh with the main plot. But when it clicks, Kevin Rice’s script hums along. And cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Suspiria) makes the most of the scenic locales.
John David Washington (Tenet) is growing into his father’s (massive) shoes, and gives a credible performance as Beckett. Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider) is excellent in her cameo, even though it’s necessarily short. Panos Koronis (The Durrells) is suitably duplicitous as the crooked Xenakis, but doesn’t get a lot of character development. The script also short-changes Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) in a peripheral role as an activist.
Maybe I’ve been a little harsh on Beckett. I mean, it’s a perfectly serviceable thriller that gets a lot of things right. Even though it didn’t really resonate with me, you may find more to like.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television