Beckett star John David Washington is fast becoming one of the most bankable leading men in Hollywood, but his new movie is a far better showcase for the actor than Tenet. After a career-making turn in Spike Lee’s award-winning drama BlacKkKlansman, the 37-year-old was hand-picked by Christopher Nolan to star in the director’s mind-melting time travel thriller. Considering the hype around the project, Washington’s casting was understandably seen as a major coup across the industry.
However, despite the excitement around his Tenet role, the much-vaunted movie arguably failed to do Washington’s talents justice. In fact, although Nolan’s film became seen as the flagship for post-pandemic cinema, the California-born actor often played second fiddle to the rest of the onscreen action. By contrast, Netflix’s comparatively low-key new vehicle puts the spotlight firmly back on Washington. For his growing fanbase, this can only be a good thing.
Washington’s issues in Tenet have almost nothing to do with his acting talents. In many ways, it’s a testament to his abilities that his performance doesn’t get lost alongside the likes of heavyweights like Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, and Robert Pattinson. Instead, the problem lies with the all-consuming nature of the rest of the movie.
Unlike a film like Beckett, Tenet is primarily a vehicle for jaw-dropping special effects and genuinely spectacular set pieces. Nolan, who is known for his visual flair due to films like Inception and Interstellar, is a master of creating onscreen illusions through clever cinematic trickery. Time and time again he has meticulously pushed the boundaries of what many in the industry believed to be possible. In many cases, the visuals are so breathtaking that the rest of the onscreen action is in danger of being overshadowed.
This isn’t to say that Nolan isn’t capable of eliciting great performances. Anyone familiar with 2006’s The Prestige or 2008’s The Dark Knight knows how highly he values actor’s talents. However, in the case of Tenet, the audience is almost bludgeoned into trying to keep up with the intricate time travel effects at the expense of prioritizing the performances. In many cases, the action is so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to absorb anything else. This is why, despite his strong performance, Washington understandably struggles to stay in the limelight.
Beckett, on the other hand, is unapologetically focused on Washington’s leading character. Instead of time-twisting car chases and dizzying sequences, the relatively simple ‘man-on-the-run’ thriller spends almost its entire runtime in the company of Washington’s titular protagonist. The relative merits of the two movies aside, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Beckett provides the actor with a better opportunity to showcase his skills.