Director: Brad Anderson (‘Vanishing on 7th Street’)
Starring: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Shea Whigham, Dean Norris and Mark Pellegrino
Sending an American negotiator to live and work in a historically tumultuous setting has long proven to create gripping cinematic stories that feel as though they’re true to life, even if they aren’t actually based on true stories. That’s certainly the case with the new war drama, ‘Beirut,’ which focuses on a current American-based diplomat as he’s forced to return to the title Middle Eastern city to help rescue a high-level CIA officer. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy smartly developed the interior psychology of his story’s fictional hero, who travels back to the capital city of Lebanon a decade after he experienced personal turmoil there. His return serves as an effort for him to finally find redemption in his personal and professional lives.
‘Beirut’ was directed by Brad Anderson, who helped bring Gilroy’s stunning political story to life. The thriller is being released in American theaters today by Bleecker Street.
Originally set in 1972 in the title city, ‘Beirut’ follows American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), who’s hosting a cocktail party with his wife and Karim, the 13-year old Lebanese orphan (Yoau Saian Rosenberg) whom they hope to adopt. The festivities are disrupted when Mason’s best friend, CIA Agent Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), arrives with startling information about Karim. Seconds later, terrorists attack the party with tragic personal results.
Ten years later, Mason, who’s now an alcoholic and is working as a mediator for labor disputes in Boston, gets approached by a stranger in a bar, who hands him a passport, cash and a plane ticket along with an urgent invitation from mutual friends who encourage him to travel back to Beirut. Reluctantly, Mason travels back the Lebanese capital, only to find that the formerly picturesque city has become a violence-ridden warzone.
Mason soon discovers the real reason he’s been called back. CIA and Embassy officials Donald Gaines (Dean Norris), Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham) and Ambassador Frank Whalen (Larry Pine) explain that terrorists have kidnapped a CIA agent. Mason’s mission is to negotiate a swap of the release of terrorist leader Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), who’s believed to be imprisoned by Israeli secret police, in exchange for the American official.
Navigating the city with the help of his Embassy-assigned handler, Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), Mason secretly meets with the kidnappers and uncovers clues that help him unravel competing agendas that are being advanced by Israeli military boss Roni Niv (Alon Aboutboul), American politicians, Palestinian Liberation Front minister Bashir (Ahmed Said Arif) and corrupt bureaucrats. Confronting ghosts from his past, Mason faces the formidable question of who to trust in a world where the truth emerges only when it’s convenient or profitable.
Mason’s riveting political and personal journey through the story in ‘Beirut’ is intriguingly true-to-life, as Gilroy based his fictional script in part on facts from the 1984 kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley. The political film’s plot, which is largely set against the backdrop of the politically dysfunctional Lebanon of the early 1980s, expertly showcases what a flawed hero Mason truly is, who’s strongly in need of redemption. The only true way that the troubled protagonist fully finds restitution is by begrudgingly confronting not only his personal past and his weakness, but also the increasing instability of a city that he once held so dearly.
The intense, character-driven political thriller was powerfully led by the profound performances by the lead cast, particularly Hamm. The Emmy Award-winning actor instinctively knew how to draw out the suspense of Mason struggling to come to terms with the turmoil he faced in Beirut in the past, and the current conflicts he’s struggling to solve. The performer memorably portrayed his troubled protagonist as a tortured soul who’s striving to redeem himself by saving the kidnapped CIA agent.
Hamm importantly saw the drama as a refreshing alternative to the formulaic action blockbusters that currently dominate Hollywood, as ‘Beirut’ instead focuses on the important political themes that still plague the world today. The actor’s portrayal of Mason’s upfront nature as a communicator amongst government leaders believably highlights his understanding that negotiations work best if everyone gets something they want. The performer also understood that his character’s a facilitator who wants both sides to win. Showing that he’s not intending to undermine a foreign government, and instead treating them a great deal of respect and intelligence, makes Mason a troubled hero who’s truly worthy of redemption.
‘Beirut’ is a smart period political thriller that can truly resonate with contemporary audiences. The drama enthrallingly revisits the roots of Middle Eastern terrorism, which serves as a backdrop to a timeless story about a troubled man’s quest for personal and professional peace. Between Gilroy’s stunning and fully developed and true-to-life script, and Hamm’s captivating, genuine and thought-provoking performance as the troubled Mason, the war drama powerfully shows that one person can truly make an important difference in any situation.