Not even trying to be too realistic, your thriller of the week has taken a trip to the Middle East.
Flash US diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), ten years following a tragic end to his posting in Lebanon, is called back by the upper echelons of the US State Department from a local union dispute to negotiate a hostage exchange. Trust no one, everyone’s out to get you, there’s danger around every corner; you know the drill long before Hamm at one stage dons his shades and walks, we’re not sure where, but somewhere that doesn’t necessitate him turning around.
Beirut may well have the curious effect and even achievement of uniting the various countries depicted, and ones that, to say the least, don’t see eye to eye, in their objections to this movie. The heavy-handed depictions of several players aside, the goings-on between Governments, bartering that takes place and what many will gladly say within earshot of what are probably piles of surveillance equipment might have a few people scratching their heads.
As for our crack negotiator, he doesn’t do a lot of negotiating. A few engrossing sequences aside, Skiles negotiation style pretty much comes down to him expositing things for our benefit or, in a more unorthodox turn of events, our now workplace mediator holding a gun to someone’s head. This is save one genuinely entertaining brokering sequence later in the film which more closely resembles what audiences will spend much of the film expecting to transpire if they haven’t given up by this point.
Beirut is too extremely heavy-handed in it’s political commentary and attempts to tie in the film’s events, set in the 1970’s and 80’s, with more current happenings; doing so in such a manner to ensure it’s barely underlying imports get through. Always excellent performers Rosamund Pike and Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) are given largely thankless roles undeserving of their talents. Pike is notably treated to a hastily inserted, poorly thought-out motivation for her character that plays off some of the worst staples of thrillers of yesteryear that one would hope had been relegated to decades past, featuring here as one of the film’s most conspicuously unnecessary creative choices.
It’s more engaging moments notwithstanding, Hamm, clearly loving his action movie turns, likewise deserves better.
Beirut screened at the Sydney Film Festival