John David Washington has been on quite the roll these last few years, with star turns in “BlacKkKlansman,” “Tenet” and “Malcolm & Marie,” but his valiant efforts to carry the load in the convoluted political thriller “Beckett” come up way short, as we find ourselves as lost and confused as the title character throughout most of the journey — and utterly underwhelmed when the dust finally settles and things are made clear, or at least less muddled.
Filmed on location in Greece and coming across as a mashup of “The Fugitive” with late 1960s/early 1970s political-intrigue actioners such as “Z,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Parallax View,” this is a great-looking movie with some stellar performances, but the screenplay veers this way and that and relies far too much on chance happenings and coincidences that don’t feel organic to the story.
“Beckett” begins with a slow-paced prologue in which Beckett and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) are on vacation in Greece in 2015. They’ve left the escalating political tensions and contentious street protests in Athens and have headed about 100 miles north to Delphi, where they stare into each other’s eyes in diners and delicately navigate the ancient ruins and keep talking about how much they love each other and how virtually nobody knows where they are right now — and uh-oh, those are some major signs big trouble lies ahead.
Sure enough, Beckett and April are driving on a desolate, winding mountain road deep in the night when Beckett falls asleep (come on) and the car goes hurtling down a ravine and crashes into a dilapidated shack, where Beckett catches a glimpse of a woman with an adolescent boy before he passes out. (Sidebar: Thanks for stopping by the movie for this brief appearance, Alicia Vikander.)
When Beckett regains consciousness, he tells a local police officer (Panos Koronis) what he saw, and it’s immediately clear Beckett shouldn’t have seen what he saw, but he doesn’t know he shouldn’t have seen what he saw until he revisits the scene of the accident and someone tries to blow his head off. From that point forward, Beckett is a man on the run, trying to make it to the U.S. Embassy in Athens and getting the holy hell knocked out of him nearly every step of the way. In the tradition of Everyman Action Movies, the formerly timid and unassuming Beckett suddenly has the survival instincts and the combat skills of a Sgt. John McClane, because if not, we wouldn’t have a movie.
As Beckett slowly puts the pieces of the puzzle together, he encounters a variety of supporting characters who have their own agendas, from a sharpshooter (Lena Kitsopoulou) who wants him dead to a political activist (Vicky Krieps) who tries to help him to the U.S. embassy official (Boyd Holbrook) who is a cartoonishly drawn caricature of the duplicitous American political operative and drags “Beckett” from the implausible to the ludicrous in one late action sequence. This is every bit the international thriller, from the exotic locations to the global political elements to the cast. If only we could get involved in Beckett’s story and truly care about his fate.