John David Washington is a spellbinding force in Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s taught thriller, Beckett. There’s something so refreshing about watching an action-orientated film that is nothing like Hollywood’s usual formula. The big difference is the approach that Filomarino takes. Yes, it has chase scenes and other staples of the genre, but it isn’t shot or edited like any other recent thriller. The focus is all on the titular Beckett and his physical and emotional turmoil in trying to find safety away from the line of fire. It’s noticeably more closely related to contemporary European cinema than anything out of the Hollywood system.
The film follows Beckett (John David Washington), an American tourist who is vacationing in Greece with his girlfriend (Alicia Vikander). After a long day out in Greece’s mainland, tragedy strikes as they slip off the road and crash into a supposedly abandoned house. This is where the manhunt for Beckett begins. He sees something that he wasn’t supposed to, which leads to him being forced to flee from a set of assailants wanting to silence him. And they will stop at nothing as they track him from town to town.
Brilliantly, Beckett manages to keep the audience consistently tense. The way in which tension is built is through the film’s unique choice to keep the viewer and Beckett himself unaware of why he’s being hunted. It’s clear that Filomarino’s intention was to force the audience to experience Beckett’s situation with him. An inseparable conjoining link is formed between the two, and it pays off big time.
If there’s any narrative comparison to be made it’s with Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. Beckett and Roger Thornhill are very much in the same position, unaware as to why they’re being chased down. As proven by Hitchcock’s masterpiece, there is something so fascinating about exploring a character who is inherently detached from the thrills of the criminal world. Imagine if Bob Odenkirk’s Nobody character was the lead in this film or in Cary Grant’s, it would be completely different. Beckett’s cluelessness is what makes the narrative so engaging, along with a slew of other aspects.
The tension lets up in very few places as the viewer is always forced to feel as if danger is just around the corner. Notably, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and has a part in creating these levels of anxiety. Beckett is shot by Luca Guadagnino and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s go-to cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. The way that Mukdeeprom harnesses natural light is miraculous, no other living cinematographer has such control to these levels. There is something so engrossing about the film’s images and the way that it intertwines the Greek landscape with the its main characters. Mukdeeprom’s style is so distinct that all cineastes will instantly know it’s been filmed by him, given his usual touch is just as present as always, despite working in a different genre.
One of the most fascinating parts of the film is its structure. It begins with Beckett and his girlfriend cutely adventuring around Greece, the tone is more romantic. But the film’s sudden shift hits so fast that the audience has no time to brace themselves. The manhunt for Beckett never lets up, creating endless exhilaration as one is left to wonder what could possibly come next.
Ultimately, Beckett is a superbly tense film that works wonders. The creative forces behind Beckett come from all corners of European cinema, colliding to make a thriller that is so vividly distinct from Hollywood’s standard; it’s an incredible achievement. People may go in expecting an action thriller that is much more conventional, but will come out having experienced something entirely new.