This John David Washington-led Netflix thriller counts a cosmopolitan outlook, and a deceptive cineliteracy, among its arsenal. Paying homage to a great British director along with touches of a classic Greek political thriller, starring an American, and directed by an Italian, Beckett wears its globally-sourced influences on its sleeve. It’s in those influences where the fun lies. Beckett (Washington) and April (Alicia Vikander) are lovebirds savouring a getaway in the mountains of northern Greece, where they glimpse on the news that a young boy has been kidnapped. Driving on a mountain road late at night (you never want to do that in a movie), Beckett careens off and crashes into a building at the foot of a hill, killing April. He survives, and as he clambers out the wreckage, glimpses a woman and a child leaving the room.
It’s a steady open, but the twist does come. After being processed by the authorities, Beckett returns to the sight of the crash where April died. And he starts getting shot at! By the police officers who had earlier been taking his details. It’s a marvellous WTF moment that propounds a sense of complete beguilement. That’s where the film really starts. The prologue’s cutesy romance and ensuing tragedy wind up as a mere device to establish the chasers and trigger the chase. In no time at all you have a Hitchcockian thriller that’s recapitulating the pleasure of being baffled—the camera craning overhead as a man on the run scrambles across mountainous terrain, hunted for reasons he doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, Washington makes for a charismatic, athletic presence in the role of fugitive.
Events in the middle act move from the northern mountains to Athens, as Beckett attempts to reach the country’s US embassy. There’s more cat and mouse before he finds help from Lena (Vicky Krieps), a left-wing activist who believes the kidnapping, and the manhunt for Beckett, are being perpetrated by a fascist militia with connections to the Greek police. Named Sunrise, they’re an explicit placeholder for real neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn. Leni explains that the abducted boy is the nephew of an anti-austerity political candidate in an upcoming election, and conjectures that Sunrise have done it to put pressure on him. Beckett is just the unlucky one to have gotten mixed up in all of it, “the wrong man” so she tells him, explicitly referencing a Hitchcock film.
Once in the capital, the spirit of the Master of Suspense is augmented by shades of Costa-Gavras’s Z, which looms large over any Greek political thriller. The 1963 film adapted the story of the assassination of left-wing politician Grigoris Lambrakis, which was conducted by fascists under the auspices of the police. Beckett’s plot utilises those details, and director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino even goes as far as to quote a percussive musical cue from Gavras’s feature during one Athens chase sequence.
There are shortcomings throughout however, and a disappointing finale collects all of them together. The fight sequences, which are few and far between, are uninspired, suffering from an edit that’s been tailored for the chases. Every scene with Vicky Krieps falls flat for a lack of chemistry between her and John David Washington, something he did have with Alicia Vikander. And the muddled, underwhelming climactic reveal reneges on Beckett’s political trappings, though they were never really as important as its thrillerish side. If Z was a political thriller, this is a political thriller. In the end, Hitchcock wins the day over Gavras.
Plenty to spot for the keen-eyed cinephile in a film that’s only as enjoyable as its allusions to famous forefathers. Which is a good thing too, because those allusions generate a surprising amount of fun out of an otherwise competent thriller.
Words by Alex Crisp
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