Political thrillers are a little too clean nowadays. Our main characters typically have a sort of coolness or suavity naturally attached to them and for the most part audiences can relax knowing that they know that the main characters will know their way out of sticky situation. BECKETT, from director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, takes it back a bit to those political thrillers that threw a random schlub into an environment of paranoia and brutal government backed antics and said: “deal with it, loser”. Believe it or not, that sort of movie makes for a pretty enjoyable time.
The catch with BECKETT, a film that operates in an unassuming way like its title, is that it surrounds its political intrigue tale (written by Kevin A. Rice), with the beautiful sheen of a slightly annoying couple hanging out in exotic locales. That couple of course involving our “hero” Beckett (John David Washington) and April (Alicia Vikander), who are having a grand old time being loving goobers with one another as they travel across the picturesque Greek countryside. For the first 20 minutes or so of BECKETT, Filomarino places the audience in an endurance test to see how long they can stand being in the vicinity of two lovers being all lovey dovey with one another. To their credit, Washington and Vikander share a natural goofy chemistry in these scenes that makes all the syrupy dialogue a tad more genuine than it reads. But just as the film threatens to fully become a lowkey romantic saunter, BECKETT shifts in the event of a car accident that rips apart Beckett and April, soon leaving Beckett alone and confused in Greece. Before he can get his bearings, it’s not long before the bullets start flying his way and thus begins the chase that propels the rest of the film.
In villages and in the busy city streets, BECKETT maintains a crisp, gorgeous look that offsets the violent forces that constantly attack our protagonist facing a brutal case of mistaken identity. Shot by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, BECKETT frames and moves its shots with the same sort of ambling uneasiness that Washington himself brings to his character, perfectly capturing the image of what it would look like if a normal dude just happened to be caught in a conspiracy and finding himself constantly running awkwardly away from goons. The minor scuffles and chases Beckett goes through look unwieldy as Washington kind of just flails about but it adds an unexpected sort of tension as we truly believe that Beckett is in over his head in all of his violent encounters. It’s rare in a movie to see our main characters as powerless, but BECKETT really leans into the image of the film’s hero clunkily finding his way through a conspiracy. To say exactly where the story leads Beckett would spoil the fun but honestly if you’ve seen one “everyday guy gets thrown into a conspiracy” film you’ve seen them all and Rice’s script hardly hides its surprises. If there are any qualms to be had it can be in the film’s final third where it seems the filmmakers seem to give into bouts of over the top encounters that contradict the film’s prior moments of sloppy realism making Beckett less of an everyman and into something closer to Batman. Nevertheless, Filomarino exhibits a solid sense of scope and background character in the way his film finds excitement in scenes set in the quiet countryside beset with interesting one-off locals and in the loud, crackling streets of riot-filled cities.
The point is, it’s really fun to see a movie where the protagonist is a genuine goober in over his head. While my thoughts on Washington as an actor are pretty neutral, his natural understated approach works better here as a man who’s slowly pushed out of his shell to be something greater. BECKETT won’t blow you away with any reveals or tricks but it rides high on the power of normalcy being shattered by the malevolent forces of politics. Plus, any movie that utilizes the natural beauty of Greece is always playing with the right cards.