When it comes to manhunt stories, most of the spotlight is on a central character who is running away from something or is accused of a crime he did not commit. Do you remember Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest? Much like the aforementioned title, Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, protégé and frequent collaborator of Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) in his second film, spins the wheels around Beckett played by John David Washington.
Unaware and unaware of how his life was going to unfold after an accident, Beckett is on vacation in Greece with his beloved girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander). The couple just had a big argument and the movie begins when the two wake up the next morning. Like typical American tourists, they spend their day wandering around places of historical and enjoyable significance.
Director Filomarino makes sure he slowly slides us into the life of the main character. The initial scenes are used to establish that Beckett is an ordinary, ordinary man. Unlike his girlfriend who knows a little Greek, he is someone who will find himself in a bind when he tries to communicate with the residents. To add to that, he is also a clumsy person; he forgets the important things that need to be done.
To put it plainly, he’s not the typical heroic character to be found in a movie like this. His character on the ground is not ideal for a person who wakes up after a tragic car accident, to flee from the state authorities who are determined to kill him. The situation forces him to wake up. The not-so-ideal ordinary man must do his best to fight for his right to life.
The movie doesn’t give Beckett time to figure out exactly what’s going on. When he revisits the scene of his accident, he is cornered by a couple of police officers who start shooting him. Before he can even figure out what is wrong, he is forced to fend for himself. The rest of the tale finds him doing his best to get away from the remote mountains and find his way to the town where the United States Embassy is located.
In his little road adventure, he meets a group of Samaritans, doing his best to escape the clutches of the evil cops who seem to be stalking him everywhere. Also in the mix is a guest ride by the escape of Phantom Thread Vicky Krieps. She plays Lena – a young political activist trying to track down the missing relative of a leftist leader who is trying to reform the center of the nation by ending the fascist regime. The plot thickens when Beckett realizes that this so-called manhunt and his will to live have deeper inhibitions.
As for the film itself, Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and co-writer Kevin A. Rice imbue their central character with enough gravity. As mentioned before, he’s a regular man who seems to be in the wrong movie. He’s not an ex-marine, ex-security staff, or even someone who goes to the gym every now and then. In fact, he is someone who has become so laid back in life that he has no more ambitions. So when the manhunt kicks off, it’s first hard for people to believe that a character like him would go to such a point and fight for his life.
However, when you look at him as a simple man, you actually realize that when circumstances like the one Beckett finds himself in happen; you can’t help but do your best to survive. Rice and Filomarino’s handwriting itself ensures that he is not portrayed as a superhuman who suddenly discovers the heroic end of his existence. He is someone who gets tired, who is filled with extreme pain and who also mourns the tragedy that has befallen him
The film only wobbles when it conveniently ties in with the storyline so as not to disrupt the organic flow of the plot. The politics that the film explores is also quite thin and seems superficial, leaving audiences confused. When Beckett has to make politically motivated choices towards the end, especially when faced with choosing between the most humane step or saving his own ass, the outcome of it all doesn’t necessarily seem logical.
To add to that, John David Washington, who luckily underestimated here, isn’t that tall as Beckett. He manages to help audiences believe in his rather grounded personality, but when it comes to being in moments of fragile character, he doesn’t deliver. The supporting actors who include Vicky Krieps, Alicia Vikander, and Boyd Holbrook all feature one-dimensional characters that don’t add much to the whole procedure. While these exceptional actors do their best, the lack of character motifs attributed to their character doesn’t even make them memorable.
However, the political conspiracy unfolding in Greece provides a credible framework. Given that the country has already experienced a political and economic crisis, the atmosphere for a manhunt like this works perfectly. I also liked the fact that everything that is said in Greek is not captioned in the movie. This step puts us in Beckett’s shoes and the lack of common ground in communication; helps to build up the tension even more. Another highlight of the film is the score by Ryuichi Sakamoto which doesn’t increase the thrill here. Instead, it carefully accompanies the uproar that unfolds in the film and brings you to understand the unfolding a little better.
Overall, Beckett functions as a throwback to the manhunt thrillers of the past. Working on the contours defined by John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, the film is able to upset some major conventions of the genre and present itself as an artist who does what it promises.
Read more: Best thrillers of the 2010s