How Netflix has sold a drama of conspiracy and intrigue.
John David Washington stars in the title role of this week’s new Netflix release Beckett. Beckett and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) are vacationing in Greece when the two are involved in a terrible car accident that kills April and leaves Beckett alive but injured. He finds answers about what happened surprisingly hard to come by, with officials reluctant to mount any sort of investigation. Soon Beckett finds himself on the run as he tries to reach the U.S. embassy in Athens before those on his trail kill him.
The 64% Fresh rating the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes indicates middle reviews in advance of it hitting Netflix this week. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to date.
announcement and casting
Washington and Vikander, along with costars Boyd Holbrook and Vicky Krieps, were all included in the cast list when the movie was announced in early 2019. At that time the film was titled Born To Be Murdered, which is simultaneously both more interesting than its current moniker and more vague and confusing.
the marketing proper
The first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in late June, marking the first element in the official marketing campaign. It’s a bit vague in how it shows Beckett walking across the roof with a gun in his hand, but it still helps to set a tone for the film. Still, it isn’t an overly-engaging design and without any kind of copy to help out there’s little to explain the story or plot to the audience.
That poster release also served as an announcement the movie’s premiere would happen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August, just days before its planned release.
Beckett and April are enjoying their secluded Greek vacation as the trailer (1.5m views on YouTube), released at the beginning of July, opens. After a car accident kills April and leaves him injured, Beckett finds no one will believe there may be witnesses to the accident. When he investigates on his own he winds up being hunted and chased by those who want him silenced. Even the American embassy isn’t of much help, leaving Beckett on his own to find out what he’s stumbled into the middle of and try to survive.
The second poster came out in mid-July and shows a closeup of Beckett, obviously a bit confused, or at least on high alert. Again, this isn’t the most engaging or informative poster, despite the inclusion of copy reading “Survival lies within.” But it does show the movie is focused on Washington, who might be on the run in some manner.
During the Locarno Film Festival Washington and director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino were interviewed, the former talking about this being a different kind of role for him compared to some of his other recent work and the latter about why he wanted Washington and what kind of influences he pulled from while making it. The actor also spoke at the festival about the importance of the theatrical experience
Netflix’s campaign has some good things going for it, especially the charisma that Washington seems to bring to all his roles. The posters are unfortunately a bit lackluster, however, and don’t adequately convey key elements of the story in an efficient and easily-comprehended manner. And it didn’t receive a whole lot of social media support from the brand in the lead-up to release.
The greatest sin, though, has nothing to do with the marketing and everything to do with a story that a) casts Alicia Vikander as “generic girlfriend” and b) kills “generic girlfriend” in order to set the plot in motion. It’s notable that she’s nowhere to be seen in the publicity for this movie, though whether that’s because her role appears to be thankless or because she was just out there for Green Knight is unclear.