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Review: ‘Beirut’ is methodical but not well planned (Includes first-hand account)

Being able to navigate tenuous relationships and correctly gauge people’s feelings is a specific and valuable skill. While it could have multiple applications, a key use for such an ability is negotiations… and if one learns to harness and hone these instincts, the sky’s the limit on where they could go. It, of course, has everyday practical uses such as getting the best price on a car or asking for a raise; but on a larger scale, it can mean talking down someone who’s suicidal, navigating peace talks or discussing terms with a hostage-taker. In Beirut, such a man is an important asset.

Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) had worked his way up a ladder that put him in contact with countless foreign dignitaries in Beirut. However, when a young man he considered family is implicated in a terrorist plot, everything he worked for is destroyed. Moving back to the U.S., Mason makes a living as a union mediator with a fairly good success rate. Though the location has changed, his ability to understand and anticipate someone’s next move is just as sharp. Thus, 10 years after his return home, the CIA asks him to return to Beirut to negotiate the exchange of a government agent for one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

This is a slow thriller in which the most intense moments involve talking and waiting. There’s a bit of action sprinkled in for good measure, but it’s the dialogue that wields the power in this picture. Mason’s alcoholism is just a factor they have to account for and at least means they can generally rely on finding him in the local bar after he’s evaded his escorts on one of many occasions. There are certain elements of the story meant to be surprising, but intuitive viewers will know what’s coming before it’s confirmed by the reveal. This unfortunately takes away from some of the narrative’s force, relegating it to the ranks of adequate but not extraordinary.

The role of Mason simply appears to be a less elegant version of Hamm’s former Mad Men character, who was also a bit of a cowboy and an alcoholic that made his living convincing people of things. Still, this narrative called for a slightly gruffer, steelier personality and Hamm delivers. Mason’s contacts during the mission are played by Shea Whigham and Rosamund Pike, whose characters have different motivations and approaches to handling Mason and their predicament. While Mason tries to figure if they can be trusted, he also masterminds the plan that will ensure the safe return of the kidnapped agent. Watching him do this is just a matter of going through the motions — it’s not edge-of-your-seat riveting, but it is interesting enough to get audiences to the end.

Director: Brad Anderson
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jon Hamm and Mark Pellegrino

Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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