When Netflix picked up this fitfully gripping thriller in October, it had a more provocative title: Born To Be Murdered. But, in a way, the blandly ambiguous Beckett suits a movie whose accidental hero remains, for much of its runtime, nearly as enigmatic as the villains.
The film begins with American couple Beckett (John David Washington) and April (Alicia Vikander) enjoying a cosy moment in remote northern Greece. When April points out that no one knows where they are – the vacationing couple hotfooted it to the mountains when they heard a protest would be taking place outside their Athens hotel – it’s obvious something terrible is about to happen. And sure enough, it does: Beckett falls asleep at the wheel during a night-time drive, causing their car to career off the road and into an abandoned cottage. April is killed instantly, but Beckett escapes relatively unscathed and spots a woman and a red-haired boy leaving the building as he regains consciousness.
After being discharged from a local hospital, Beckett spinelessly tells the police that the car skidded on ice: the first real clue that Washington’s character is a little more complex than the average thriller lead. When he returns to the cottage, presumably to help himself process a tragedy that he’s at least partly responsible for, Beckett is shot at by an ordinary-looking woman (Lena Kitsopolou) and a previously sympathetic officer from the station (Panos Koronis). Convinced they want to kill him, though with no idea why, Beckett decides his only option is to dash to the US Embassy in Athens before they can put a bullet in his head.
With no car or mobile phone to hand, it’s an incredibly challenging journey that requires Beckett to rely on the kindness of strangers because he can’t trust the authorities. Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, best known for working as a second-unit director with Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria), who serves as a producer here, makes this cat-and-mouse game pretty compelling even when it doesn’t make sense.
In time, we’re asked to believe that Washington’s uncommonly tough ordinary Joe has stumbled into a political conspiracy rooted in the Greek government-debt crisis of 2009 – a bit of a reach. But at no point does Filomarino show any interest in exploring the added difficulties that Beckett would surely face as a Black man on the run in an overwhelmingly white Greek region. It’s not the only aspect of this film that doesn’t quite ring true, but definitely the most glaring.
Both Vikander and Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps, who appears late on as a helpful left-wing activist, are wasted in thinly written roles. Still, Washington displays the same skill for making a shadowy character relatable as he gave to Christopher Nolan’s Tenet – at least until Beckett‘s ending stretches his hero’s credibility a bit too far. The result is a wild ride that’s sometimes exciting, but never very satisfying.
- Director: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
- Starring: John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Vicky Krieps
- Release date: August 13 (Netflix)