Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Jon Hamm anchors a thriller set in Beirut

An intricately plotted thriller set in the roiling heart of the Middle East during the 1980s, Beirut delivers much of what we expect from movies that dip into volatile political situations -- a discernible pulse and an atmosphere rife with intrigue. Jon Hamm anchors the movie as Mason Skiles, an able US negotiator whose life falls apart when his Lebanese wife (Leila Bekhti) is murdered during a terrorist attack. Not surprisingly, the attack undermines Mason's faith in nearly everything, particularly because the murderous assault on Mason's beautiful Beirut home resulted from an act of beneficence. Living in Lebanon in 1972 - prior to the country's descent into civil strife and violence -- Mason and his wife had taken a 13-year-old orphan (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg into their home. As it turns out, the boy’s older brother (Hicham Ouraqa) led the terrorist attack in which Mason's wife died. The screenplay by Tony Gilroy (the Bourne movies) reveals all of this in a jittery prologue and then leaps ahead 10 years, the time just prior to Israel’s war in Lebanon. By this time, Mason has returned to the US where he works as a small-potatoes negotiator and tries to drink away his pain. He’s pulled back into the Middle Eastern fray when he’s asked to return to Lebanon to negotiate the release of a former pal and CIA agent (Mark Pellegrino) who has been captured by the PLO. Meanwhile, the adult Karim (Idir Chender) has become an active terrorist working with the PLO. Reluctantly dragged back to shattered Beirut, Mason finds himself in the company of a supporting US crew of characters played by Dean Norris, Shea Whigham and Rosamund Pike. Each of these characters has an agenda that may have little to do with saving a valued CIA agent but which adds a cynical gloss to the story. Hamm’s predictable transition from drunk to a man in command of his skills may not be entirely credible, but his bestubbled presence helps keep the film on track. Although Beirut probably sometimes confuses complexity of plot with insight, director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) keeps the story moving. Beirut is never anything less than watchable, even if it's ultimately short on thematic clout.

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