Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brad Anderson
Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Larry Pine, Shea Whigham
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/13/18
Opens: April 11, 2018
Jon Hamm is a painfully handsome middle-aged actor who was perfectly cast in “Mad Men.” He fits in handily as a Madison Avenue executive and was born to smoke and drink while selling expensive advertising to major clients. He should be considered to be the next 007 provided that he can imitate the king’s English. He is well cast in “Beirut.” He still drinks and smokes, occasionally raises his voice. He is a negotiator as he was in the brilliant TV episodes, so adept that even the bad guys in the Middle East insisted that they would talk only to him to arrange an exchange of prisoners. Tony Gilroy’s story for this new release is as confusing as Brad Anderson’s direction. From time to time a bomb goes off in Lebanon’s capital, and occasionally there is the rapid fire of AK-47 as bad guys in the usual headgear and mouth coverings do what they do for reasons that are not always clear to Americans—who think that the only reason that people take risks is for money.
As Mason Skiles, Jon Hamm is shown in Beirut in 1982 with flashbacks to his time in Lebanon’s capital ten years earlier. In 1972 things were looking up for Skiles, then a diplomat. He enjoys the company of his lovely wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti). The couple even adopted Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), a Palestinian refugee who is now a cute kid of 13. But Karim has a secret: his brother Abu (Hicham Ouraqa) was a bad guy responsible for the murder of Jews during the Munich Olympics. Just as Karim and Skiles are having a nice chat, a deadly terrorist attack during a diplomatic party leaves Nadia dead. Skiles, now in no mood ever to return to the middle east, takes on a job at home as a labor negotiator but is called back in 1982 because Cal Riley (MarkPellegrino), a good friend, is being held prisioner. The terrorists want to trade him for Abu Rajal.
It’s no wonder that they want only Skiles. His adopted son Karim (Idir Chender) is now grown up, a fighter for the Palestinian cause, and feels certain he can trust his stepdad to pull of the trade, but the sinister U.S. diplomats are divided in motives leaving only Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) to support the negotiations.
What could have been a film to break new ground as did the filmmakers for the superb “Mad Men” series instead create a same ol’ retread of spy stories, which in itself would not be so bad if the story did not plod along with boatloads of banter which do nothing more than confuse the viewer further. This is a surprise coming from the screenwriter, Gilroy, whose “Argo” in 2012 presented an ingenious ruse to get six people who had escaped from Iranian clutches out of the country by setting up a fake Canadian film company. “Argo” was not confusing, was full of original ideas, and with excitement that flowed organically from the plot. This one’s a dud.
Rated R. 109 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – D
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – C