Pilot Sean Haggerty is a trusted mule for a major international drug cartel, running cocaine across the US/Mexico border. Little does the cartel know that Haggarty also works for the Drug Enforcement Administrator. In exchange for Sean’s help bringing down the cartel, the DEA agrees to pay for an operation for Haggerty’s sick wife, Jen.
On his last job, the cartel unexpectedly changes his drop target setting off a wild airborne cat-and-mouse chase. With drugs and the life of his loved one at stake, Haggerty’s loyalties are tested whilst he must land the plane and stay alive long enough to save Jen’s life.
There are two distinct performance types from Daniel Radcliffe, post Harry Potter, the compelling actor that he’s been in films like Imperium and the over the top portrayal he gave in Now You See Me 2. Since he became a worldwide name, he’s certainly picked unusual roles – a white supremacist, billionaire’s son, burnt out romantic and a man burdened with knowing the sins of others have all featured in his ever-broadening repertoire, as has a dead man and Igor, the assistant to Victor Frankenstein. A varied career has certainly given Radcliffe plenty of ammunition for any role he chooses.
Daniel Radcliffe is the only character we see for the majority of this film as he pilots his plane through the darkness, juggling communications with the drug cartel, the DEA and his wife. There’s very little to distract us from the focus of the film, the plight of Haggarty, with occasional flashbacks expanding upon the thin plot. The more familiar Tom Hardy vehicle Locke had a similar conceit, without the flashbacks, and stands head and shoulders above Beast of Burden on all levels.
Radcliffe gives a convicted performance as Haggarty, carrying the film as well as he can with a script that isn’t as intense as it should be. There’s a sense of urgency to what’s happening as we see the DEA, the cartel and the plane all play against Haggerty’s desperation to carry out the mission, but it never feels like he’s truly in peril. Flashbacks offer an insight to the events that led to this point, taking us out of the cockpit and making for a more interesting premise as Adam Hoelzel’s script flounders from a strong start. It’s curious that a film that is so much set in the cockpit is at its least interesting inside that space.
Jesper Ganslandt’s direction presents the claustrophobia of the cockpit and the powerless feeling that Haggarty has, even when he’s not in the confines of the Cessna. With much of the action taking part inside the plane, though, we don’t ever get a feeling that Haggarty is really flying, robbing the film of much of the tension it needs to give us a sense of peril.
The nighttime setting does no favours to Michael Barrett as the cinematographer. With much of the film in low light, it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s going on, which may be an accurate representation of flying at night but is a grim experience as a viewer. Thankfully, the flashbacks are much better lit, for the most part, and, at least the instrument panel is a focal point.
A strong performance from Daniel Radcliffe, complete with convincing American accent, let down by a film that tries to fly high but rapidly nosedives and never recovers, there are better films with similar themes of duplicity against the odds and serving a greater good whilst working on both sides of the law – including a number of entries that can hang their reputation on being “based on a true story” – there’s little reason to truly recommend Beast of Burden, even as it tries to ramp up the drama in its final few minutes.
The DVD is a barebones affair, featuring just the trailer. That’s somewhat disappointing given that Radcliffe has proven that he’s a charismatic interviewee on many occasions.
Dir: Jesper Ganslandt
Scr: Adam Hoelzel
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Grace Gummer, Pablo Schreiber
Prd: Rene Besson, Nicolas Charter, Jonathan Deckter, Sean Glover, Slava Vladimirov, Wei Wang
DOP: Michael Barrett
Runtime: 89 mins
Beast of Burden is released on DVD in the UK on 13th August 2018