It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There's the old story about the actor who plays the gravedigger in Hamlet. He's asked what the play is about. "It's about this gravedigger who meets a prince." The movie "Backbeat" illustrates the same thought process. It's about a painter who was almost a Beatle.
Stuart Sutcliffe died in April 1962 of a brain hemorrhage, just a few months before the Beatles made the first recordings that would make them famous. He played bass with the group for about two years, in Hamburg and Liverpool, but his heart was never in performing, and after he fell in love with Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer, he drifted away from the band. He preferred painting.
There is a lot more to the story than that, of course, and "Backbeat" makes the most of it. Sutcliffe's best friend in the band was John Lennon, and the film suggests, subtly, that Lennon was in love with him, and maybe with Astrid, too. The other Beatles (George, Paul, and Pete Best, who was then the drummer instead of Ringo Starr) weren't so thrilled with Sutcliffe. They believed he was a bad musician, and Sutcliffe agreed with them. A bigger problem was that he simply didn't much care about being in a rock and roll band, and stayed as long as he did only because of Lennon's insistence.
The story of the early days of the Beatles is the stuff of folklore; how they discovered their sound in the smoky dives of Hamburg, how the producer George Martin masterminded their early great records, how they become the most famous performers in the world, almost overnight. It is a good story, but it isn't the one "Backbeat" wants to tell. It wants to make Stuart Sutcliffe the focus of the film, and it's never able to convince us there's a story there.