From Fargo to Nashville to Chicago to Munich and many more besides, this new big screen offering from director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) is another film that (somewhat unimaginatively perhaps) takes its title from the city or town in which it is set. It also serves as the first movie lead for Mad Men star Jon Hamm since the 1960’s-set television drama ended its seven year run in 2015. Despite his best efforts with supporting turns in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver and the recent comedic release Tag, Hamm has struggled to shake the legacy of Don Draper, a role that netted him two Golden Globes and an Emmy. Hamm stars here as Mason Skiles, a one-time American diplomat who is recalled to Beirut when a former colleague is snatched by terrorists. Penned by Tony Gilroy, whose previous writing credits include the likes of State of Play, Michael Clayton and four of the Bourne films, Beirut serves as an adequate vehicle for Hamm to establish his bona fides as a leading man without ever reaching the heights of the very best political dramas. The biggest flaw perhaps lies with the predictability and implausibility, in both the characterisations and the course of events.
The film opens 10 years earlier when Skiles is stationed at the US Embassy and hosting a gathering of dignitaries which becomes the target of an attack that leaves him reeling and results in his return to America. Skiles, now an alcoholic, is working as a labour negotiator when he is summoned back to Beirut at a time when heightened tensions in the region between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) are playing out across Lebanon. Amidst the chaos, an American has been kidnapped and, with the captors insisting that they will only negotiate with Skiles, there are no surprises whatsoever when the perpetrator is revealed, removing much of the tension that might otherwise drive this part of the story. Much political argy bargy ensues and matters are further complicated when Skiles learns that there are those amongst the American contingent whose best interests would not be served should he be successful in negotiating a release.
It is almost unfathomable that, in light of her Academy Award-nominated performance in Gone Girl (2014), Rosamund Pike has seemingly been unable to secure another role that offers even a remotely similar level of intensity and resonance. The again, this is Hollywood and she is a woman, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at all. As Sandy Crowder, Pike has little to do here as a CIA operative charged with babysitting Skiles who, like Jason Bourne, is burdened by a combination of his own demons and the shady history of his country’s clandestine interventions in other territories, although his talents comprise drinking and talking rather than fighting or mad motorcycle skills. As is to be expected, there is double-crossing aplenty from the various sides and, whilst there is some insight into the tensions within the region, it is very one-sided perspective given there are no Arab voices beyond those of the various bad guys.
The footage of war ravaged Beirut leaves you in little doubt about the level of destruction that the Lebanese people endured during this period and it certainly would have been good to see the film delve more into the complexities of the conflict rather than simply deliver yet another ‘brown is bad, white is good’ narrative. The various supporting players include familiar faces such as Dean Morris, Shea Wigham and Larry Pine, all of whom play members of the American delegation overseeing the operation, albeit with vastly different agendas. Whilst it is good to see Hamm front and centre of the action, he will be hoping that Beirut is merely a stepping stone to something far more memorable.