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I’ll say this right up front here: Netflix movie Black Beach demands close attention, for better or worse. It’s a dense Spanish thriller — directed by Esteban Crespo and starring Raul Arevalo — that puts its protagonist in a number of sticky predicaments and then through the wringer, and asks its audience to keep up. It’s a big ask, maybe, but at least it’s not Tenet, right? Whether it’s worth the effort of leaning toward the screen and listening intently and not being spoonfed things and keeping all the characters straight? Well, I dunno.
He gets up, kisses his extremely pregnant wife in an erogenous zone (hey, good morning) then jogs to a restaurant, where he goes into a backroom and fondles a plastic bag with cash in it. Why he does this, I’m apparently not intellectually crisp enough to suss out; maybe he’s corrupt in some way? Anyway, a guy calls him a scumbag, so something dirty must be going on. Carlos goes to an office and does some vague corporate this-and-that, makes an old white guy in a swank boardroom angry. I think it’s some mergers or acquisitions or subpoenas or such; I kinda wanted Margot Robbie in a hot tub to That night, he and his wife gussy up for a fancy shindig where his mother (Paulina Garcia), a U.N. muckety-muck, is speaker.
This is all background so far, to define character and setting and stuff, I guess. Some of it has some bearing on the core plot here. I’ll get to that now: Carlos is tasked with traveling to an unspecified African country to help negotiate the release of a kidnapped man who’s (checks IMDb summary) an engineer for an American oil company. Carlos is chosen for this job because he used to live in Unspecified African Country, and he Knows Some People. If he “makes sure everything goes smoothly,” he’ll become partner at the firm, cue Ominous Music at approximately level 6.3, just enough to unsettle but not enough to really guide our emotions.
of Carlos’ former lover, who’s been keeping a secret from him for nearly a decade; no spoilers, but you can probably guess what it is. This is about when shit starts going sideways for our protagonist, and you can tell because his shirt goes from neatly ironed to wrinkled to rumpled to having a long sweat stain down the spine. He gets tangled in political wranglings, is chased by men with guns who use the guns to shoot at him which is not cool, and leaves a trail of bodies behind him but at least he didn’t kill any of them so maybe that’s slightly less terrible for him? Either way, he didn’t think this gig would be easy, but he surely didn’t expect it to be this hard. Photo: Netflix
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Black Beach has the characteristics and feel of a George Clooney or Clive Owen thriller from the late-aughts: The American or The International maybe (if you remember them), but it most closely resembles Michael Clayton.
Performance Worth Watching: Arevalo is remarkably grim here — despite the level of overwhelm and bewilderment we’d expect his character to feel, never really cracks his game face until the end.
Must be lawyer shit?
Sex and Skin: A suggestive sexy scene; some brief casual nudity.
Our Take: Kudos to Black Beach for not being overly expository, which is something that renders many other films terrible, if not outright condescending towards audiences. But it’s also overplotted to the point where it’s all but an exercise in obfuscation. In order to follow the plot, we have to piece together fractions of details — kind of like putting together a puzzle that’s missing key pieces, then deducing the big picture. It’s work. And show of hands: Who’s up for some work tonight or this weekend? That’s what I thought.
At least Crespo doesn’t always deny us pleasurable satisfaction or an opportunity to experience, oh, what are those things called again? Right — emotions. He deploys a complex and intricate action sequence at about the two-thirds mark that evolves from a foot chase to a car chase to a chase away from a helicopter and its many guns to a very gruesome incident with a machete. It’s a Bourne-ish sequence that’s worth a look, but to get to it, you first have to do some gruesome things to the plot thicket with a machete.
The film isn’t so impenetrable as to be thematically vacant.
And maybe its portrayal of Unspecified African Country is too broadly stereotyped and derivative, with its corrupt, heavily moneyed leaders, angry guerillas with RPGs and instances of poverty porn. At least the ending delivers a reasonably punchy payoff designed to satisfy anyone who’s been paying attention. There’s no question that the movie works hard to get there, but I’m not sure it ever compels us to really care.
Our Call: SKIP IT. For most viewers, Black Beach is probably more work than it’s worth.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
Stream Black Beach on Netflix
Black Beach Netflix spanish language Stream It Or Skip It.