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The Filomarino View: How Netflix’s ‘Beckett’ Updates The ‘70s Paranoia Thriller For The Modern Age

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 13, 2021

When Ferdinando Cito Filomarino set out to make Beckett (now streaming on Netflix), the filmmaker drew on his love of slow-burn political conspiracy thrillers from the 1970s such as Three Days of the Condor (1975). During that turbulent decade, fallout from the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal had left the American public’s trust in the federal government deeply shaken.

Directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Sydney Pollack, Alan J. Pakula harnessed that paranoid apprehension in a number of now-famous pictures — not just in Condor, but in The Conversation (1974), The Parallax View (1974) and All The President’s Men (1976). All of these movies dealt with a regular citizen — be they investigative journalist or a low-level CIA analyst — going up against some sort of monolithic power structure, whose shadowy members were willing to kill anyone who got in their way.

“I’ve been a fan of this genre — manhunt thriller with a political background-type movie — for a long time. I knew I wanted to explore it somehow,” Filomarino (Antonia, Call Me By Your Name) tells Forbes Entertainment during a Zoom interview. “Then I started to imagine what could be interesting today to make of that genre, and how to make it interesting and personal at the same time.”

Even with Vietnam and Nixon in our collective rear-view mirror, things haven’t changed all that much. History has a funny way of repeating itself and recycling old tropes — from a controversial armed conflict overseas to a sitting president who can’t always be relied on to tell the truth. Faith in authority, one could argue, is shakier than it ever was.

“We have, in some respects, similar conundrums in terms of our relationship with the establishment and our relationship with public information,” Filomarino explains. “And then there are things that are completely are own, which have to do with different subjects that didn’t exist at the time … I felt that whatever that paranoia was in the ‘70s, I felt like we have our version of it today and so, I felt like there could still be something interesting to talk about.”

While Beckett doesn’t take place in the United States, it still harnesses our modern day cynicism through the eyes of a regular American citizen (played by Tenet’s John David Washington). Naturally, Filomarino based the titular character on Joseph Turner, Robert Redford’s beleaguered CIA analyst from Three Days of the Condor.

“Even though the protagonist is a CIA agent and he is Robert Redford and he is as cool as can be and everything, but the way it’s set up…you know, he’s a bookworm. He is in the CIA and he’s had some sort of training, but it’s almost a formality. He’s really just a great brain,” the director says of Turner’s appeal. “And that was fun because, of course, he has to use his brain to crack the mess that he finds himself in.”

Without giving too much away, Washington’s character finds himself embroiled at the center of a vast, labyrinthine, and deadly conspiracy while on vacation in Greece with his girlfriend (Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander). To go any further would be to invite spoilers to the paranoid party, but like Redford, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, and Gene Hackman, Washington makes for a compelling, everyman protagonist who just wants to stay alive and get to the bottom of what’s happening to him.

“The lead character has to tackle two things,” Filomarino adds. “One: he is a dramatic character. He is a person who has his own issues and is going through a personal crisis. Both because of just the way he is as a person and because of something that happens to him at the beginning of the film as a consequence of his behavior. And then this character is put through the amazing, extraordinary adventure of a thriller and therefore, whoever played this character had to embrace both aspects of these problems. John David, I found to be an amazing, refined performer.”

Greece, the director reveals, was not always going to be the main setting:

“The film definitely had two main requirements. One was a country that was undergoing some sort of turmoil, some sort of crisis, because of what we needed for our plot. And the other was an interesting variety of landscapes that could serve not just as a backdrop, but as a foreground for the sheer amount of travel that our character has to go through to achieve survival in some ways. Greece had both of those in its recent history and in the topography of its mainland, which is so rich and varied.”

He states that production never lasted more than two days in the same location. “That was difficult, that was tiring — every day [we had to] re-establish from scratch. It kind of kept us on our toes and I guess that was a good thing and that was both difficult and fun and somehow in tune with the character.”

Despite the fact that the film is only now being released to the public, Beckett was actually shot before Washington filmed Christopher Nolan’s own espionage-type thriller: Tenet. “We actually learned that he was doing Tenet mid-shoot,” Filomarino recalls with a laugh. “One day, the news came out and we’re like, ‘Oh, wow. Ok…We definitely cannot go late.’ Because then the following right after us, he shot something else for just a little amount of time and then went off to do Tenet that summer.”

Washington is now one of the most sought after performers in the world of entertainment right now, but if Filomarino cant get ahold of the actor again, he’s not totally opposed to another outing with the character.

“The end of this film is, to me, most importantly evocative,” the director concludes. “I think that evocative note that it ends on is the best punctuation possible for this character’s journey. I think another story about him would very, very different in some way. It would not be something similar to this. Probably something a bit more Kafka-esque, you know?”

Based on a screen story by Filomarino — making his English language debut here — Beckett was written by Kevin A. Rice. Vicky Krieps (Old) and Boyd Holbrook (Narcos) co-star.

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