There is no sadder genre than the tedious thriller, a movie that works hard to entice us with suspense, rough and tumble action, maybe even alluring locales, only to fizzle out far from the finish line. Beckett, directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and starring John David Washington, starts out promisingly enough: Washington plays the Beckett of the title, an ordinary American on holiday in Greece with his girlfriend, April (Alicia Vikander). The two have escaped bustling Athens for the soothing rusticism of the countryside. They’ve booked a room at an inn, and they’re late getting there. Driving on a twisty road at night, Beckett falls asleep at the wheel. Their vehicle veers off the road and smashes through the wall of a small cottage. Beckett comes to, injured and bloody, and although the police at first seem inclined to help, it’s not long before Beckett realizes he’s their prey, for no discernible reason.
From there, Beckett—written by Kevin A. Rice, from a story by Filomarino—is a swervy tale of paranoia and befuddlement. Beckett has no idea why the cops are so interested in shooting him dead. They also happen to be very good at finding him, wherever he runs, possibly because his is just about the only Black face on the local landscape—a bleakly humorous detail. (When quizzing a bystander, one of Beckett’s pursuers describes him as “a Black guy,” which, in this case, totally narrows it down.)
Through it all, Beckett jumps off mini-cliffs, tumbles down ravines and runs and runs and runs. One arm hangs in a sling. He’s shot several times—the bullets zing right through, luckily, but you know it still hurts like heck. Anyone who tries to help him—including a gaunt local hunter and a duo of sweet, anxious beekeepers—ends up being bullied (or worse, though at least the “worse” happens off-screen) by the cops. Also, no one speaks much English, and the character’s lines aren’t subtitled, an interesting choice that drives home Beckett’s feelings of helplessness and alienation.
But the novelty of watching Washington’s Beckett run—and run—even as he’s hampered by obvious pain wears thin pretty quickly. The plot hinges on a sliver of political intrigue—involving an activist played by Vicky Krieps, of Phantom Thread fame—that doesn’t really justify all these weird goings-on. Washington pours a lot into this performance. He’s especially good in the movie’s early scenes with Vikander, where the camera catches him gazing at her with lovesick tenderness. But even if Washington is ready to be a star—after being so terrific in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, and helping to anchor Christopher Nolan’s ill-fated Tenet—Beckett is just a pitstop on that road. Because you can’t outrun an audience’s boredom. In the end, it always catches up.
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