Pleasantly mild (and mildly pleasant), Netflix’s Beckett echoes paranoid thrillers of the 70s


John David Washington leads political conspiracy thriller Beckett as an American tourist in Greece suddenly running for his life. Echoing the paranoid ‘wrong-man’ thrillers of the 70s, Beckett isn’t wildly inventive or exciting, writes Katie Parker, but at least it’s a pleasantly mild diversion.

Remember the everyman? Average, humble and generally inoffensive, he used to be a stalwart of cinema, inexplicably faced again and again with exceptional circumstances disproportionate to his ordinariness. That is, of course, before everyone became a super-powered comic book character. In new Netflix action-thriller Beckett, however, the everyman is revived, with director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino paying homage to the paranoid ‘wrong-man’ thrillers of the 1970s and exploring the idea that not every hero has to be particularly heroic.

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We first meet Beckett (John David Washington), in the midst of a vacation in sunny, sunny Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander). The trip is going well—so well, in fact, that they barely notice the civil unrest simmering beneath the surface as they swan and smooch around the streets of Athens.

Tragedy strikes, however, on the way to their next destination. Running off the road and into an abandoned house, April is killed instantly (sorry Vikander-hive), while Beckett is the sole witness of something he wasn’t supposed to see. Barely has he grappled with his shock, grief and guilt, before he realises someone is trying to kill him—and suddenly he’s on the run, fleeing his newfound assailants across the Greek countryside, and all the while attempting to a) find the American embassy and b) figure out what the fuck is going on.

None of these things happen in any kind of hurry mind you, and, for what is ostensibly an ‘action-thriller’, there are relatively minimal action or thrills. Instead, Filomarino takes his time, languidly allowing the plot to unravel almost entirely in exposition, unveiling what turns out to be a vast international conspiracy with surprisingly little fanfare.

Washington is fittingly nondescript as the unlucky Beckett. We learn little about him except that he’s sweet, gentle, and weally wuvs his gf. When things go south, he’s only marginally less hopeless than the rest of us would be—a bold move in the age of ‘main character energy’, but a nice deviation from popular culture’s current preoccupation with exceptionalism. Similarly, the film itself is far from the intense, overstimulating barrage of violence that action audiences are used to, instead taking a toned-down, gentle tack that is refreshingly inoffensive.

But does mild-mannered meandering come at the expense of depth? In this case, yes, and despite gesturing towards an atmosphere of political turbulence, there is never more than the vaguest explanation of what is actually going on—and even this is reduced to the most easily intelligible and unambiguous portrait of corruption imaginable. Scenes of violent protest may form an aesthetically effective backdrop, but ultimately Filomarino has about as much to say here as a Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial.

Yet, while not wildly inventive, exciting or even super thoughtful, Beckett is nevertheless a pleasantly mild (and mildly pleasant) diversion and a strangely soothing escape from the stylised hyperviolence that has become all but inescapable in a post-John Wick world. So too is there a certain relief in Filomarino’s refusal to pursue something more cerebral, even if what Beckett really needed to do was to lean into its silliness, and get a little bit goofier. After all, this is a film that was originally titled Born to Be Murdered—why not have some fun?

Despite its distinct mediocrity, it’s hard to be too mad at Beckett. Not everything has to be a blockbuster sensation or a searing political critique. A little sun, a little intrigue and a little low-stakes suspense? It’s just what the everyman ordered.