UK Release Date: 13th August 2018
Runtime: 86 minutes
Director: Jesper Ganslandt
Writer: Adam Hoelzel
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Grace Gummer, Pablo Schreiber, Robert Wisdom
Synopsis: A reluctant drug smuggler trying to earn money for his wife’s medical treatment finds his latest delivery in serious trouble when the DEA get involved and his superiors smell a rat.
Of all of the major Harry Potter actors, it’s Daniel Radcliffe who has had by far the most interesting career since that franchise closed its doors. He has flirted with big movies like the dreadful Victor Frankenstein and the decidedly poor Now You See Me 2, but he has also carved out a great niche in strange independent movies like Swiss Army Man and Horns. This is an actor exercising his right to choose in the wake of the financial security created by Potter, which makes Beast of Burden even more baffling in its naffness.
It’s possible to see the allure of this movie for an actor. Like the widely loved Tom Hardy movie Locke, it focuses mostly on a single character alone in the cramped environs of a vehicle. This time, it’s Radcliffe’s former military pilot Sean, who’s now flying a slightly rickety aircraft full of drugs over the Mexico-US border. His wife Jen (Grace Gummer) is seriously ill and he’s attempting to earn money for her medical fees. He’s also working for the DEA and fields calls from both of his sets of bosses as his flight becomes increasingly fraught.
The format of Beast of Burden could have worked, in better hands. Unfortunately, the story here isn’t up to the standard of the performance at its heart. Radcliffe makes the most of the fact that much of the movie is constructed as a showcase for his acting and delivers a very solid central performance. This is despite the fact Adam Hoelzel’s script gives him only the scrappiest morsels of character to work with and constantly derails the tension with flashbacks that are too brief to say anything significant.
And that’s the problem with the movie as a whole. It’s constantly too brief and slight to ever say anything meaningful about its central character and, in a film focused entirely around that protagonist, it has to do better than that. The tension only works if the audience knows enough about the character to care, and that’s not the case with Radcliffe’s Sean, despite the best efforts of the actor. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the multiple different people he’s speaking to on the phone, especially when new conversations are sparked later in the story, and so it’s tough to join the narrative dots, as few and far between as they are.
Beast of Burden constantly seems to be battling against its own premise, whether it’s cutting to flashbacks or mounting a generic climax in which various people run around with guns. Jesper Ganslandt directs with a stunning lack of focus and energy, meaning it’s tough to ever be invested in the action, which puts the focus squarely on the threadbare plot and Radcliffe’s performance. Only one of those factors is up to the challenge.
Pop or Poop?
There’s clear potential in Beast of Burden and it benefits from a stellar central performance by Daniel Radcliffe, who continues to shine in his post-Potter work. It all feels a little cheap and shoddy, though, with a finale that becomes incredibly generic and fails as a pay-off to the solid effort Radcliffe has put in up until that point. It’s a movie that lets its star down in a big way.
Beast of Burden is available on DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.