Netflix has become known for releasing original films that are either mammoth in scale and/or prestige (think The Irishman and Army of the Dead) or tiny little productions (things like Paddleton and Horse Girl). As is the case with the majority of Hollywood, there isn’t much room for the star-driven mid-budget films that we saw so often up until the mid-2000s. For those who miss that experience, Beckett may be the salve you’re looking for.
Directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, the Netflix acquisition stars John David Washington as Beckett, an American tourist in Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) who experiences a terrible accident on the road, and unlocks a conspiratorial web that puts him on a run for his life. Beckett must navigate a country he is unfamiliar with, trying to communicate his plight with many who don’t speak his language, as he treks across the country in the hopes of reaching the U.S. Embassy in Athens to find safety from those pursuing him.
While the man on the run conspiracy thriller elements call to mind films like The Fugitive and Three Days of the Condor, the stranger in a strange land concept is reminiscent of another Harrison Ford thriller, 1988’s Frantic. That Roman Polanski picture saw Ford as a doctor in Paris battling jet-lag as he searches for his missing wife, unable to effectively communicate with those whose help he desperately requires.
Beckett’s experience here is quite similar, as we see him bounce from one Greek to another, his disorientation from the accident becoming more of an obstacle as he is also dealing with a language barrier. This puts him in quite the predicament, as those looking to harm him are right on his tail at every turn.
Filomarino and Washington do a fine job of keeping us in Beckett’s perspective, refraining from using subtitles for non-English dialogue so that we, like Beckett, are forced to pay attention to body language and facial expressions to try and discern everyone’s true intentions. That distrust makes for a fascinating investigatorial touch when Beckett encounters characters like those played by Vicky Krieps and Boyd Holbrook, people who promise to help him survive and reach his destination.
As is the case with Frantic, the unique setting and socialization of Beckett gives it an idiosyncratic European flavor, a sort of arthouse spin on a generic American thriller. This makes for an intriguing viewing, which is a relief as Kevin A. Rice’s script admittedly leaves something to be desired in terms of character development. Beckett’s situation is looped into a larger conspiracy revolving around political unrest in the country, and Rice is never able to make a firm enough connection between those two elements to where we care about the grander scope of the conspiracy at the heart of it all.
There’s not enough meat on Beckett’s bones to make for a full meal, and it does at times feel as though we’re seeing a modern version of something we’ve seen done much better before. Your mileage may vary on how much you’ve been missing that particular thing, as we haven’t seen it in some time, allowing Beckett to feel like a throwback as much as it does a derivative.