In Beckett (which premieres on Netflix this week), John David Washington plays the title character. When we meet him, he’s just a guy who is on vacation in Greece with his girlfriend, April (Alicia Vikander). After an automobile accident, during the aftermath, Beckett sees someone he’s not supposed to see. After, he’s thrust into a game of espionage, intrigue, and geopolitical maneuvering that he never asked for.
For director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, he was heavily influenced by William Friedkin’s movies of the 1970s. (Mostly The Exorcist and The French Connection, but he loves Sorcerer. If you haven’t seen Sorcerer, you should watch Sorcerer.) And ahead he explains how he tries to recapture what those movies have here in Beckett – a movie where, like the title character, we don’t really know what’s going on and there’s always a pretty intense sense of dread.
Your publicist sold me on watching Beckett by comparing it to Friedkin and Pakula movies. Do you agree with those comparisons?
More Friedkin. But, true about both.
Speaking of, I finally just recently watched Sorcerer. That movie is incredible.
That movie is incredible. I have seen it a million times. I own the soundtrack on vinyl. It’s a masterpiece. Very underappreciated, unfortunately.
It is one of the most tense movies I’ve ever seen.
I agree. And talking about inspiration, which is as you know, intense and crazy as the story is, it’s not unrealistic. It’s just very intense. The film’s tone and characters are grounded in a, very bleak of course, but a very real place. They’re criminals of various types, but you kind of believe it. And, therefore, it’s that more intense, like you say. When you see them experience these extraordinary circumstances, that was definitely an inspiration for me.
So was Sorcerer specifically an influence for Beckett? Or more just Friedkin’s style?
Well, I guess his approach. Thinking of The Exorcist and The French Connection, he always starts from a place of real people. People who are part of real life. As crazy as the stuff becomes in the film, there’s always this tangible element to them. And that approach really inspired me and, of course, the most literal example is The French Connection, which of course is inspired by true people. But the idea definitely very much inspired me.
I would say one major difference between your movie and the movies you mentioned: In The Exorcist you have a priest. In Sorcerer, like you said, you have criminals. The French Connection is a cop. Beckett’s just a dude and we don’t even know much about him except he’s trying to enjoy a vacation.
Absolutely. Well, that was my angle. As much as I was inspired by that aspect of Friedkin in the tone, but I found that to make something that could be somewhat original, or definitely relevant to me, was creating a character that’s not supposed to be in that movie. And in this sense kind of start the movie as a drama, with a dramatic character, and then the thriller hijacks that movie and takes over. But then I was interested in, so what happens to this character now that he’s in this other movie? And, of course, that can only work if your tone is coherent and that’s where that inspiration came in.
A lot of movies right now are pretty convoluted. And this one, the plot is very streamlined…
Look, in these types of movies, there’s always at least a bunch of flaws because it comes with the territory of course. And there’s an element also discovering what’s going on, which is fun and everything. But again, with our premise being, let’s experience it through this character who is not a spy or somebody who is used to needing the wits to cracking stuff like this or fighting people who are shooting at him. And, therefore, it was delicate and interesting to me to find just how does he figure it out? And let’s be next to him as he does. Let’s not be ahead of him. Let’s not cut away to other characters to explain things. Let’s just experience it with him. And that can be a different kind of experience.
Also, nothing truly crazy happens with the plot. There’s no twist that makes us reconsider everything we’ve seen. We don’t learn any huge detail that is false…
Well, I would say we’re not learning anything false is incorrect because part of the difficulty is actually figuring out whether he can trust some people or others, whether they are telling the truth or whether they even know the truth wittingly or unwittingly.
What I mean is, we don’t learn, let’s say, a character we thought was dead is now somehow alive and is involved in the whole evil scheme. Something like that…
I see exactly what you mean. And I guess I go back to the tone. It’s finding, to remain consistent with this priority. Staying grounded and staying relatable. To me it just made sense. I didn’t feel that because it would have betrayed the rest of the film and then what’s the point. And I guess didn’t feel the need to up the ante. I feel we do up the ante, but in a different kind of way. And it’s more about danger and the need to figure out what’s happening, than stuff like that. Like that character is a zombie or something.
‘Beckett’ streams this weekend via Netflix. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.