Enjoyably old-fashioned spy thriller.
Director: Brad Anderson (The Machinist)
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton)
Cast: Jon Hamm (Baby Driver), Rosemund Pike (7 Days in Entebbe)
Runtime: 1 hr 49 min
by John DeSando
“I was a child during the Lebanese civil war, and I remember Israeli bombardments. So growing up, my view of Israel was completely negative. I'm not coming from a neutral place, but with time, I've had to re-examine my thinking.” Ziad Doueiri (Lebanese director)
In the early ‘80’s, Lebanon, and specifically Beirut, was a cauldron of conflicts that involved the interests of the US, the PLO, Israel, Syria, and Druze Militias. Director Brad Anderson and writer Tony Gilroy, reminding us of his fine work with Michael Clayton, carefully steer us through the city’s growing rubble to chronicle the negotiations for a CIA spy to be exchanged for a rebel leader. Think The Year of Living Dangerously, Argo, and John le Carre for similar suspense.
Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a former US diplomat and current drunk, is called in as a skilled negotiator to bring back his friend, CIA agent Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), in a prisoner exchange. Hamm is particularly effective as a martini-soaked Cold War survivor whose role stateside after Lebanon as a labor negotiator has ennui written all over him.
Yet, this gig is fraught with danger because no one is a fool, and the smart players are too canny to be conned by a smooth talker like Mason. He has the good fortune to have his back guarded by cultural attaché Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), an operative with multiple motives but a good bet to save the day.
Although little hope resides yet for a peace between Arabs and Israelis, the film succeeds in fleshing out the multiple points of view that have kept the Mideast a stew of ambitions and hatred. In the end, the film Beirut is an espionage thriller featuring an unBond, avowedly alcoholic hero. In that regard, it offers nothing new in this genre, just good action suspense and a modicum of insight.
The pace of this freneticng thriller set in the Lebanese Civil War is quick and smart with just enough character development to satisfy the harshest critics and enough turns in the negotiations to keep discerning audiences attentive and engaged. Be smart: see it.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com