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Beirut (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 21, 2023


BEIRUT (2018)

Starring Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Mark Pellegrino, Larry Pine, Shea Whigham, Douglas Hodge, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Idir Chender, Jonny Coyne, Kate Fleetwood, Leila Bekhti, Yoav Sadian Rosenberg, Ahmed Said Arif, Hicham Ouraqa, Sonia Okacha, Mohamed Zouaoui, Ben Affan and Ian Porter.

Screenplay by Tony Gilroy.

Directed by Brad Anderson.

Distributed by Bleecker Street. 109 minutes. Rated R.

The Middle East has been a political and military quagmire for as long as anyone can remember. There are so many controversies and crimes that the region has become something of its own film genre. Some of the American films on the subject are smart and savvy (i.e. Syriana, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty). Others are cheesy and a little exploitative (Delta Force, The Kingdom, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, American Sniper).

Surprisingly, Beirut is one of the better ones.

As you may guess from the title, this movie looks back to the days well before Isis and Al Qaeda, back before Syria and Afghanistan were the danger zones. Beirut takes place in the title city, back in the 70s and 80s when the city… and Lebanon as a whole… were the biggest terrorist areas in the region and the world. Entire neighborhoods were bombed out, terrorists and corrupt government officials were in a non-stop battle for an increasingly threadbare land.

Beirut looks at American diplomats and spies trying to negotiate the swirling politics of the area. Specifically, it centers around Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a former diplomat (and possible spy) who is nearly destroyed when his wife is murdered in an attack on the American Embassy after she mentors a young Lebanese boy who turns out to be the brother of one of the most wanted terrorists in the country.

After the attack, Hamm returns home, becoming a massive alcoholic doing corporate mediation, obviously sleepwalking his way through life. He has completely divorced himself from international diplomacy and sworn never to return to Beirut. Ten years later, smashed in a hotel bar, he is approached by an old colleague. The government needs him. His best friend in the diplomatic corps is being held hostage and the terrorists requested him by name as the negotiator.

He has no interest in getting involved, however when he is immersed in the espionage and danger, his natural skills start to reassert themselves, fighting with his depression and his drinking problem, as he negotiates the back alleys of his bombed out former home.

In Beirut, Jon Hamm finally gets a smart and serious lead role in a movie career that has never quite taken off after his breakthrough role in Mad Men. At this point he is mostly known for supporting roles in comedies. While he doesn’t stand out totally, he does a fine job here. This movie won’t probably change things completely, but it may get more casting directors to give him a shot on bigger, flashier roles.

As usual, Rosamund Pike pretty much steals the movie as a pretty, smart CIA agent who starts out mistrusting Hamm’s character, but eventually becomes his best ally as he traverses the deep web of crosses and double crosses.

Dean Norris, in perhaps the worst toupee ever, plays the hard-ass local CIA rep, who is more than ready to throw Skiles to the wolves if it saves the US, and himself, some embarrassment.

Beirut is not the most original movie ever, but as espionage thrillers go, it is surprisingly taut and enjoyable.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: April 11, 2018.


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