By: Anthony Francis
Interesting and well-crafted thrillers are hard to come by these days. Most modern films are too timid in their screenplays and are in too much of a hurry to get to the action.
Gone are the days of films such as Sidney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor”, John Schlesinger’s “Marathon Man”, or Arthur Penn’s massively undervalued 1985 film, “Target”.
Films such as these crafted interesting, down to Earth, characters that were over their heads in situations they could not understand; the ever so unlucky protagonist.
Their screenplays would build tension slowly as the mystery began to unfold. The audience would not be able to figure anything out and only discovered each new turn along with the lead character.
The biggest issue of them all, modern thrillers have forgotten how to play cat and mouse with their audience.
Set during the Athens financial crisis of 2009, Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s “Beckett” stars John David Washington as a man out of his element, thrust into a mystery where people are trying to kill him.
John David Washington plays Beckett, a man vacationing in Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander).
Driving late at night, their car crashes, falling into a ravine and crashing through a small, abandoned house. Barely conscious, Beckett sees a young boy and a woman taking the boy away.
Once he leaves the hospital, he goes to the police station to make his report, telling one of the policemen of the boy he saw.
Suddenly, Beckett is being hunted by the police and must make his way to the U.S. Embassy and discover why this is happening to him before he is killed. Around every turn there are crooked cops and assassins trying to catch him. He spends the rest of the film on the run “Richard Kimble”-style.
He finds a sympathetic ear in Lena (Vicky Krieps) and Thalia (Daphne Alexander). The two are anti-government activists from whom he learns that police are in working with the fascist group Sunrise. The two women are also putting up flyers of the missing boy Beckett saw.
Finally at the embassy, Beckett encounters Agent Tynan (Boyd Holbrook). He tells Tynan his story and (as movies have taught us for years), things do not improve for him.
Beckett’s flight from those out to kill him is exciting and Washington is perfect in the lead. His character is an everyman but (apart from one over the top moment where he leaps from a ledge onto a car), we believe the moments where he fights back against his attackers. The film doesn’t try to make him into Jason Bourne. Beckett fights but gets hurt. In every encounter he is either shot or stabbed and is also burdened by panic attacks. His fallibility makes it all work.
The moments of action are abrupt and jolt the audience as much as they do Beckett. Every corner could find someone wanting to kill him and every passerby is a danger, as he is a stranger in a strange land.
Director Filomarino does quite the impressive job crafting this homage to the paranoid thrillers of yesteryear. Kevin A. Rice’s screenplay unfolds slowly and doesn’t resort to throwing “McGuffins” at viewers every 10 minutes. It does not need a ton of exposition, but the plot is there. Be patient and follow along.
While audiences try to figure it all out, Filomarino’s film stuns with crisp action scenes and a great use of the streets and countryside of Greece, courtesy of cinematographer SayombhuMukdeeprom. The director and his cameraman use the towns and mountainside woods to great effect and put Beckett right in the middle of an uprising on the streets of Athens that becomes the key to all that has happened.
This is smart and exciting filmmaking. Filomarino has been second unit director for most of director Luca Guadagnino’sfilms. Guadagnino is a filmmaker who respects the old style and Filomarino has learned a lot by working with him.
During any chase or fight or shootout, there is not a shaky-cam moment in sight. The director wants his audience to experience every move.
BECKETT is a film that works from its first moment and doesn’t let its audience nor its characters down.
This is the type of thriller that modern cinema needs more of.