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John David Washington in Beckett.
John David Washington in Beckett.
Photo: Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix






2/5 Stars


When a car accident turns a romantic holiday in Greece into a horrible tragedy for American tourist, Beckett (John David Washington), he soon learns that he won’t have any time to grieve as he accidentally stumbles on a vast political conspiracy and becomes the target of very deadly, very powerful people.


After playing a character called, quite literally, "The Protagonist" in last year's mind-bending sci-fi action-thriller, Tenet, John David Washington once again finds himself playing a barely-named, blank-slate of a protagonist in an action-thriller that's significantly less technically brilliant, original or intelligent than Christopher Nolan's otherwise extremely flawed, "cinema-saving" blockbuster. This is not a very promising trend.

Charitably, we can just chalk it up to following his dad's career path of paying his dues with some generic thrillers, but while Denzel Washington could elevate even the most big-standard material through sheer charisma alone, the younger Washington is, unfortunately, a bit flat on screen when not given the right material to work with. He was brilliant in BlacKKKlansman, and those are clearly the sorts of roles he should be pursuing. Fortunately, it looks like his next project will be the new David O Russell film, and that's definitely a step in the right direction.

Washington's blandness is certainly not the exception in Beckett, though. I was already a bit let down when I saw that Beckett wasn't a film about acclaimed playwright Samuel Beckett but a thriller with a plot that literally looked like it could have been come up with by a computer (and not a modern computer, either), but it's still surprising just how boring and uninspired it turned out to be. 

Beckett is a film that almost never slips below "fine", but it absolutely never rises above it either. The action scenes are fine. The plot is fine. The actors are, I suppose, fine, if completely wasted (what the hell is Alicia Vikander doing in this?). It's score, cinematography, direction... it's all fine. The socio-political backdrop of a troubled Greece is potentially interesting, but even then, the way it is dealt with is... well, you get the point.

The problem with all this "fineness" is that the cumulative effect is significantly less than fine. The cinematic equivalent of a bath in perfectly lukewarm water, watching Beckett has the very strange effect of having no effect whatsoever. You watch it. It's there. That's it. It doesn't thrill; it doesn't engage. It doesn't make you laugh or cry. It doesn't even make you angry or frustrated. It's the kind of boring that is almost passive in its boredom. It's so boring that even the word "boring" starts to lose any meaning. It is, from top to bottom, on every conceivable level, a nothing sandwich.

The only thing even remotely of note here is that this is directed by the Italian filmmaker, Ferdinando Cito Filomarino with a story by Filomarino and a screenplay by Kevin A Rice. This in and of itself is not remarkable, of course, until you start to consider that this probably isn't a case of Hollywood just churning out a generic thriller to fill up the now nearly non-existent bottom shelves of nearly non-existent video stores. This is something that a young, fresh-faced director with only one other feature film under his belt and who started out as a second-unit or assistant director on arty fares like Call Me By Your Name and A Bigger Splash, seemed to actually want to make; went out of his way to make. It might even be, heaven help us, a "passion project".

I can at least understand this film as a piece of cynical, corporate product. I have no idea what to make of it as anything approaching a personal vision. And, unfortunately, I can't quite bring myself to care enough to try and figure it out.



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