Movie Review: Beast of Burden

By Thom Compton 05.12.2019

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Beast of Burden (UK Rating: 15)

Beast of Burden is a mostly single-location thriller starring Daniel Radcliffe, Pablo Schreiber and Grace Gummer. The film tells the story of Sean, a desperate man trying to make some money to save his wife's life. In order to do this, he needs to fly a plane somewhere and ensure the cargo is safe when it arrives. He's clearly a man who has made mistakes, and even more so, a man who loves his wife. All the while, he has the people who want him to deliver the cargo, and federal agents who want to intercept the cargo, making the situation even more stressful.
Beast of Burden is a highly conflicted film. Sean (played by Radcliffe) wants to just focus on the mission at hand. Between the cartel he is delivering for, and the DEA agent (played by Schreiber) he is also, secretly, delivering for, he doesn't have the time to focus on the mission at hand. This would be more tense if the film weren't trying to juggle so much. Mix in some calls with his wife, Jen (played by Gummer), and this film is largely about watching a man freak out on the phone while flying a plane.
This isn't entirely set in one location, but the majority of the movie is set within the cockpit of the plane Sean is flying. These shots are mostly fine, and the tension is generally pretty good. The scenes outside the plane aren't particularly good though. Single-location movies (which this almost is) have phone calls in them all the time. Something like Buried uses phone calls to great effect, and there's no cutting to the caller's location.

Beast of Burden cuts to these locations enough to result in any tension previously built in the plan being completely deflated. Now, instead of seeing a man struggle to fly a largely broken-down plane, we're in the office of the DEA agent watching him eat, or with Jen, watching her feel sick. All the tension is taking place elsewhere, and it makes these excursions feel like gigantic let downs.


None of this is helped by the performances or script. Radcliffe's American accent is... okay, for the most part. It's not very believable, but he commits to his lines, which makes up for the somewhat shoddy accent work. Gummer does a good job portraying Jen, but Jen is an awful character. She whines about unimportant things, she's very rude and snippy with Sean, and most of her dialogue just feels pointless. In fact, much of the films dialogue feels pointless.
Conversations never really have time to breathe, instead being ellipses filled oral sputtering from characters who are largely blank canvases with a sign that reads "Insert Human Here." Sean is a man who has made mistakes; Jen is almost a stereotype of the "human female," always nagging and threatening to leave -she's more concerned at one point about making sure Sean knows what kind of wine she and her friend were drinking than any rational person would be.
...Then there's the DEA Agent, Bloom. He's also a terrible character, portraying the stoic, unfeeling government robot of a man who's just interested in doing the job and being done with it. He doesn't care if the things he's promised go awry because he did something incredibly stupid, he just wants the job done. He says things that make you hate him, and the film never justifies this. He's just a bad person, and his presence in the film feels completely unwarranted, especially after the ending.

Side note, there are two instances of gun fire in this movie that make no sense. The first has Radcliffe shoot something, to death, that seems logically impossible. The second occurs because... reasons? It's like one of the actors was told he had a real gun, panicked, and then everyone decided to keep it as a plot device.

All of this really falls on the script. The directing is merely ok, and the performances are just fine. The script though, fails at almost every turn. Fun ideas are never explored, such as repeated calls to Sean from an insurance company, which almost brought some levity to the film. Instead we get, mad call from Jen (because she's a woman), a mad call from the DEA agent (cause he's a no-nonsense government type), and then mad calls from the cartel leader earlier in the film. The one person who doesn't call Sean mad as hell is the one person who should be - but there's nothing like a calm and calculated bad guy to raise the tension, right? Please.

Rated 4 out of 10


Beast of Burden does feature some tense moments, and it's not the worst movie you could spend 90 minutes with. It is, however, poorly written. There's a moment involving a gun and a window that is laughable, and these kinds of moments break up this movie. The performances are fine for the most part, and the directing is largely okay. The real gut punch here is the script, and its failure to contain anything imaginative, consistent, or even realistic. It just basks in clichés and plot holes, and while it's a tolerable watch, that's about it.


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