Review by Daniel Pappas
To start with, one might wonder if you need to know anything about history to enjoy “Beirut.” The answer: a simple no. Still, the movie offers little pathos to the city (and the country of Lebanon as a whole) from its very first minute until its absolute end. Arguably, the most this movie did for me was crave learning about the history and geopolitics of Lebanon and the Israeli invasion.
Jon Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a negotiator, who’s been recruited by nefarious government agencies to negotiate the release of an important hostage – Jon Hamm’s former partner and current operative in the region. Of course, everyone is betting against him, except for Rosamund Pike, as he works to negotiate with the captors: his previously adopted Lebanese son. Set against the backdrop of 1980s Middle East Beirut looks like terrible.
The movie goes to great lengths to establish the “danger” of just being in Beirut at the time. Maybe there’s accuracy to what’s said. Maybe it’s true that Syrian forces bombed all kinds of encampments and the PLO wanted to live through the current ceasefire. This “danger” manifests itself aggressively from the very first minute in Jon Hamm’s (kind of alarming) diatribe about Middle Eastern politics until the very end.
With sand-colored frames of footage, abombed-out ’80s Beirut occupies the center of this movie. Nowhere is untouched by violence and the number of militias and rebel parties proves dizzying to the viewers (though not to the characters who have been living in this world for quite some time.) It’s so thoroughly demonstrated that I started to feel bad for Beirut. They didn’t ask to be portrayed as a completely hopeless war-torn area.
This movie ultimately proves Americans are the antagonists (spoiler alert – kind of.) As Agent Ruzak and Dean Norris’ character (He’ll just always be Dean Norris to me) reveal their money-stealing conspiracy, Rosamund Pike makes a complete turnaround to help Jon Hamm bail his friend out. It’s clear the hostage negotiation is part of a much larger scheme on behalf of the American State Department and CIA (in cahoots with the Israelis of course!) The good news is Jon Hamm escapes and potentially romances Rosamund Pike?
Look, I wanted to say something nice or unique about this movie but by the time I woke up this morning, it vacated the space in my brain. It’s a bunch of white, male, Americans realizing who’s good and who’s bad as they try to stop a radical terrorist (who’s really just a kid trying to get his brother back.) While it’s not wartime propaganda or full-on historical revisionism, it certainly lacks a depth to it at the expense of plot. Tonally it felt like a heist movie set in the Middle East during the ’80s. Except there were no massive twists. Or perhaps the big plot twist never felt so impactful simply because the twist feels predictable. Who knew the CIA was gonna do something trippy and double cross one of their own?
Ultimately, the best thing I could say is that this movie feels like a much more R-rated “Argo” with Jon Hamm instead of Ben Affleck. There’s so little love for Beirut (or Lebanon) and so much dislike of the Israelis. All geopolitics aside, this one’s a “watch it when you don’t know what else to watch” kind of flick. Maybe let it pop up on Amazon Prime or Netflix or whatever and give it a shot, but don’t waste your money in the theaters. It’s not particularly remarkable and there are plenty of remarkable movies out right now.