There’s something about being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language that can make a bad situation infinitely worse. Even if a person’s communication skills are decent and enough English is understood by locals to transmit important information, there are still cultural elements and norms that may be missed and make it more difficult to resolve an existent issue. What better opportunity for a clueless American to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a concept put to expected use in the new Netflix film Beckett.
Things begin warmly with a romantic trip in Greece for Beckett (John David Washington) and April (Alicia Vikander). When they are driving late at night and Beckett falls asleep at the wheel, their car crashes into a house. Beckett awakens injured and alone, and, after speaking to a police officer, soon finds that he is being hunted for what he may have seen inside the house. Desperate to reach the U.S. Embassy so that he can return safely to the United States, Beckett must get creative to evade the authorities who have no interest in helping him survive.
The way that suspense and tension build here is subtle, drawn from an increasing sense of isolation that Beckett feels about his situation. At first, his problems are as simple as having forgotten to call the next idyllic destination he and April are set to arrive at to ensure that their room remains available, and April is able to fix that with a quick, charming phone call. When Beckett is on his own, however, he no longer has a reliable partner to help him, and he quickly discovers that the police are not his ally. His embassy seems like the only hope, but naturally it’s hours away and he has no easy way to get there, especially since he is a wanted man.
Even if this premise feels familiar and like it has been explored countless times in cinema and television, there is a degree of freshness that breaks through here due to the immersive nature of the experience, even when viewed on a TV screen via Netflix. The audience sticks almost entirely with Beckett, learning new information along with him and piecing together a mystery he didn’t realize he had to solve as he does. New allies, like an American embassy representative (Boyd Holbrook) and Lena (Vicky Krieps), a foreign activist, represent hope but also potential treachery since it’s hard to know what their true aims are, especially because they have a better sense of what’s truly going on, though they too don’t really speak the language.
The success of this film depends largely on its star, John David Washington. The actor delivered two very memorable but extraordinarily different turns in the last two years, as a secret agent in Tenet and as a filmmaker in Malcolm & Marie. This performance doesn’t really reflect either, instead casting him as a man thrust into an unpredictable situation merely trying to stay one step ahead of his pursuers. There are moments in which he rides in a car and audiences may hope for a dose of Christopher Nolan-style logic-defying action, and others where Beckett himself seems to deny gravity and logic all on his own, summoning inexplicable courage to make bold moves that seem questionable for a guy from Ohio who works in tech to know.
Ultimately, Beckett proves to be both engaging and unmemorable. For the duration of its nearly two-hour runtime, it’s easy to stay immersed in this rapidly worsening world filled with political conflict that has this American tourist caught in a web of lies and corruption, and once it’s over, there isn’t much left to process since Beckett is, after all, just an ordinary man who just wanted to vacation in Greece with his girlfriend. This cinematic trip is certainly better than the one its protagonist set out to take, but it’s not essential viewing save for those who particularly enjoy the man-on-the-run concept.
Beckett premieres on Netflix on Friday, August 13th.