Black Beach is a just-competent-enough thriller to navigate a potentially risky premise, but despite being well-made and acted and reasonably intelligent, it doesn’t amount to a lasting experience.
There are levels of thrillers, just like anything else, and Esteban Crespo’s Black Beach, now streaming on Netflix, is of the serious, moderately intelligent, and competently put-together variety. It’s entirely unremarkable except in the ways that it’s trying to actually be unremarkable, which make it somewhat atypically grounded. Without any distracting melodrama, it tiptoes along a risky premise with admirable balance, and while snooty Letterboxd reviews will condemn it as yet another white savior narrative, there’s a bit more to it than that, even if it isn’t very much.
You’ll see what I mean about the premise, which finds Carlos (Raúl Arévalo), a senior company executive on the cusp of being made partner, sent to Africa to mediate the kidnapping of an American engineer. The part of Africa he visits is left nebulous, just a broad idea of the continent, which is what strikes as a bit stereotypical. The reunion with an old flame (Candela Peña) and the gradual tying-together of political cover-ups, family drama, and big business make for wearily familiar beats too, another naïve go-getter sucked into capitalist power-plays, forced to confront his own ambitions and ideals. But Raúl Arévalo is excellent, with a well-written story of personal redemption. Again, nothing special. But enough.
The injustices committed against far-flung nations by parties with a vested interest in their resources but not their humanity isn’t new, thematically speaking, but remains relevant. Black Beach makes no secret of which side it’s on, steadily exposing Carlos to truths he has no choice but to grapple with, even at his own personal detriment. If the shoe fits one should wear it, or so the saying goes, and this film, while well-intentioned, can’t shake some of the associations of a white protagonist trying to fix a place he has a personal if not cultural history with. But dismissing it out of hand as thoughtless would be a mistake.