Photos | Bleecker Street Media / Focus Features
From left: In Tony Gilroy’s “Beirut,” CIA operatives must send a former U.S. diplomat to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. In the true story “BlackKkKlansman,” Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and become head of the local chapter.
If you liked “Argo” but always wondered what Jon Hamm would look like with sideburns (answer: good), then you will like “Beirut.” Exciting, well-acted, satisfying and rather culturally insensitive, it’s an action movie with snappy dialogue and no superheroes, so it’s something of a rare find.
Written by Tony Gilroy, who brought us the original Bourne trilogy, “Beirut” is a well-written vehicle for a good actor in a beautifully shot and exotic locale. Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a brilliant and accomplished diplomat whose career and personal life are shattered one night in his cosmopolitan home in the city of Beirut, when Karim, the young boy he and his wife have taken into their home and hearts, is revealed to be the brother of a wanted terrorist. Skiles loses everything trying to protect Karim and returns to the United States.
Ten years pass, and neither Skiles nor Beirut remain intact. Skiles is summoned from the bottom of the bottle, where he tries to live his life, to return to Lebanon for a mission only he can complete. He has been summoned by name to rescue a former friend, Cal, another American operative who is a dangerously valuable hostage. Here, Skiles meets various men who represent the conflicting agendas the rest of the world carries for Lebanon.
His closest ally is Sandy Crowder, portrayed by Rosamund Pike, who gives a nicely subtle performance as a female in a man’s world. Crowder is intelligent and brave, but Pike gives her a self-effacing, almost bashful quality, and it is very satisfying to see her allow herself to be underestimated, for her own purposes. Pike, outside of the ridiculous “Gone Girl” bloodbath, has a gift for unshowy control on screen. It’s a nice added dimension for a female character, since it is now popular to allow the ladies to have strength and agency onscreen, to portray this strength in a variety of ways.
I was not the only person who felt a bit conflicted about the film’s portrayal of the Middle East. “Beirut” seems at times a cliché of villains, rubble and filthy sacks thrown over white people’s heads. I am not sufficiently learned in the historical time period to speak to the accuracy, but there has been controversy over the portrayal of Lebanon in an offensively stereotypical light.
The retro setting of the 1970s and, following a terrible civil war, the 1980s ameliorates that problem somewhat. This is not a film about the cultural nuances of conflict in the Middle East. It is about an American man rescuing another American man, and all I can say is that most of the other men — from Lebanon, Israel, the U.S. or Palestine — are bad in this movie.
Ultimately, “Beirut” is a good change of pace if you want to watch an exciting movie that is also realistic. Jon Hamm is like the Don Draper version of James Bond: sardonic, invested, talented but world weary and wryly humorous. His partnership with Rosamund Pike is a nice one, and they make a watchable, dare I say, mature pair. It’s an adventure worth watching.
“Beirut” is available to rent.
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