“Sorry, baby. I wasn’t thinking,” says Beckett (John David Washington) as he cuddles up with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander). Beckett’s apology to April for some off-the-frame squabble is how the film chooses to begin with, and that decision shows more than it tells, for what is to follow.
The subsequent shot shows the couple through a breezy date on an ideal sunny day somewhere in Greece. Laughs, games, food, carefree conversations the entire sequence feels like a warm blanket on a cold day. Maybe it’s the hangover of such a long, somnolent day, during the car ride back to their hotel in Athens, Beckett inadvertently falls asleep on the wheel, loses control of the vehicle which tumbles down a hill and crashes onto a house. Just like that, Beckett loses everything he considered beautiful about his life.
Even before he could put a handle on this guilt and grief-ridden reality, Beckett’s small, shattered world has already crossed paths with a bigger, darker world of political conspiracy and a narrative that even links unrelated countries. The memories of her soft lips on his cheeks seem far away with every bullet casing that clatters to the ground, and there’s no time to grieve for what’s lost, but only to survive. A manhunt ensues, and Beckett is the prey.
An innocent man stuck in an adverse situation following a freak accident is enough to root for Beckett, yet the further amplified, the slowly constructed first act makes the audience form a stronger bond with Beckett. Every little step he takes and every danger he dodges draws us closer to the screen.
Huge credits go to the grounded action choreography of the film. Beckett is an unskilled, disoriented, broken, uncoordinated protagonist with just the will to survive, and the action reflects that. Additionally, this underpowered, instinctive hero elevates a plain, knife-wielding man in a subway into something insurmountable, and the fight is truly riveting.
In films about conspiracies, withholding information and letting us know no more than the protagonist is a useful tactic, and it works well here. Though the film truly makes it hard for the protagonist, for the most part, it does get a bit too convenient for Beckett at some places. Even when he is suffering from a fractured arm, multiple bullet wounds and whatnot, Beckett’s journey seems hardly pulls back the disbelief of the events, if not for the convenient exits he finds.
However, Washington sells the pitch through his performance. Balancing the physical exhaustion and the mental breakdown that his character endures, Washington compels our empathy and leaves us wondering how we would personally react during such circumstances, something that most good survival films do.
If Washington makes the biggest impact, the music scored for the film comes to a close second. When Beckett is chased through the woods, the score is like that of a Hitchcockian thriller, while in another part, the music feels like it was straight out of a Spike Lee film. Music plays a big part even before we see Beckett and April. The film starts with Blood Orange’s Born To Be, and the lyrics fit Beckett’s plight. Maybe that’s why the film was previously titled Born To Be Murdered. Such creative choices, in all elements of the mise-en-scène, seem to be meticulously done.
For example, the grading of the film is such that it doesn’t move away one bit from the visual memory of Greece that pop culture has perpetuated. The contrasting blues and oranges, with a warmer tint, is what the film maintains throughout. At times, it even evokes the memory of some 70s American cop films. The colour of the costumes that Beckett wears throughout the run beige, orange, yellow, blue, grey and white and the instances at which he picks the clothes, add a layer to the visual aesthetic of the film. It evens makes one wonder if there are homages hidden behind the choice of those colours. When the film reaches the third act, one would wish for a magnificent climax as a cherry on the cake.
And oh boy, it treats us with that too. Once Boyd Holbrook’s character enters, the film takes many routes to attain its destination. However, what’s more interesting, is the final shot with which the film ends. While most people are wondering what the final scene means to Beckett’s escape back to America, the political plot, and so on, director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino ends with a close-up shot of a bloodied Beckett, reinstating what the film is about. When someone’s back is pushed to the wall, it’s obvious that there’s only one way to go: Forward. And from that point, the journey is full of limitless possibilities. This is the narrative that the brightest ones of the human race keep telling us, and Beckett is a brilliant trial of that condition.
CAST: John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Boyd Holbrook, Vicky Krieps
DIRECTOR: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino