Oh jeez, a political spy thriller. This is going to end well…
Anyway, no real commentary, other than the gigantic confusion as to why this movie is getting an early release date (Wednesday)? First READY PLAYER ONE and now this. Has this always been a thing and I’ve never noticed?
The story looks like it’s about a man who is tasked by government agents to help negotiate the freedom of a captive agent in Beirut, who happens to be a friend of his.
Here’s the cast. Starring we have Jon Hamm (NOSTALGIA , BABY DRIVER , KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES , MINIONS , and upcoming films TAG  and BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE ), Rosamund Pike (7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE , HOSTILES , A UNITED KINGDOM , and the upcoming THREE SECONDS ), Dean Norris (DEATH WISH , THE BOOK OF HENRY , SECRET IN THEIR EYES , and the upcoming DUKE CITY ), and Shea Whigham (DEATH NOTE , KONG: SKULL ISLAND , KNIGHT OF CUPS , and upcoming films THE CATCHER WAS A SPY  and FIRST MAN ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Brad Anderson, known for STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014). Penning the screenplay is Tony Gilroy, known for ROGUE ONE (2016) and THE GREAT WALL (2016). Composing the score is John Debney, known for THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017), ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE (2016), and the upcoming THE BEACH BUM (2018). The cinematographer is Björn Charpentier, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. Finally, the editor is Andrew Hafitz, known for EQUITY (2016), and the upcoming CHARLIE SAYS (2018).
Overall… I’m actually thinking this isn’t going to be good. I mean, look how the opening of this movie starts. “Years before I heard the term ‘mutually assured destruction’ I was very familiar growing up with it-” and then an explosion. Well that’s one hell of coincidence! It’s almost like it was on cue! So my knowledge, this isn’t based on a book or on true events, outside of the Lebanese Civil War that this story revolves around, but I’m seeing some mixed reception. Some ratings say it’s good, others say is demonizes Muslims and Arabs, so… I don’t know, I guess we’ll see, but I’m keeping my expectations down low.
This is my honest opinion of: BEIRUT
Set during the Lebanese Civil War, circa 1982. Ten years ago, Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) was a U.S. diplomat in Beirut, Lebanon. However, a terrorist group attacked him at his home and his wife Nadia (Leïla Bekhti) was murdered. Having left Beirut since and started up a two-man law firm, Mason is tracked down by some government agents to return to Beirut. An old friend of Mason’s, Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), has been taken hostage and the kidnappers want to negotiate very specifically with Mason.
I think I should make something clear to everyone, I’m no expert on foreign current events. In other words, I have no idea what’s going on in Lebanon, and I am not privy to its history. A lot of reviews and ratings seem to hate the film for its lack of sensitivity to the reality of Lebanon’s history and what have you. I can’t confirm, or argue any facts. That’s not what my review will be about. It’ll be relaying what I think of this movie, as a movie. With that said, let’s proceed.
The movie starts off adequately enough, taking place ten years before the story begins showing Mason mingling with the upper class, happily married, and even took in then-thirteen year old boy Karim, gave him an education and think of him as part of the family. And when the government agents show up to take the kid in for questioning, Mason is quick to leap to his defense. The ferocity in his eyes, the shock of Karim’s brother in contact with him, he flawlessly shifts emotional gears, making this a rather engaging performance by the man, which he carries throughout the film.
Having said that, Mason is a bit of a cliché. Because of tragedy, he’s an alcoholic. He’s miserable. He wants to live a small life. I recall a review online saying that he’s basically Rick from CASABLANCA (1942), which… yeah. A far less interesting and complex version. The problem is that Rick had understandable reasons for getting involved in Ilsa’s affairs. Mason doesn’t. He’s living an easygoing life, miserable as shit, but he’s cruising through life without worrying about getting shot at. When the spook approaches him with an offer from the government to go back to Beirut, Mason vehemently states that there’s nothing that can be offered to him to go back to the country where his wife was killed. Well, except a crap load of cash and a new passport. Uh… say what, now? Yeah, that’s about as much coaxing as he needed. Aside from how weak the motivation is on the emotional standpoint, it doesn’t even make sense in a narrative standpoint. Does Mason need the money? We never get a sense of his financial troubles. I would assume he’s not rich, but he’s drinking a shit load of alcohol, which isn’t cheap. Sure, his partner is leaving their two-man firm for greener pastures, which could imply that he’s going to have financial problems, but that’s not exactly made clear. Why bother having the, “nothing can get me back to that hell-hole” line if greater effort wasn’t put into the convincing?
Basic rule of storytelling is when characters set out to get what they want, they have to meet obstacles, obviously. In this case, the government agents needing Mason for negotiating purposes. When characters meet resistance, they have to change their tactics; try something else to get what they want. For example, a hungry hunter sees a rabbit he wants to eat. His first instinct would be to chase it. But the rabbit’s too fast for him. Change in tactics would include sneaking up on it, luring it into a trap, waiting for it to return to its burrow where its baby rabbits are nestled, you get the idea. Here, the moment Mason says that he won’t go to Beirut should have been where the agents come forward and tell him, “yo, your buddy Cal was kidnapped by terrorists and they specifically named you to negotiate with.” I’d say that line alone would have been a much more powerful reason for Mason to go back. But no, he learns this after he arrives, not before. Sure, the pacing would have been extended, but it’s far more sensible than what we ended up getting here.
The long and short is that the characters are pretty bland. Strong performances prevent the film from being boring. I mean, Rosamund Pike? Dean Norris? Shea Whigham? Mark Pellegrino? These are some damn charismatic actors who know how get your attention. But when you look past that, who are these characters? Sandy is a run-of-the-mill goodie two-shoes. Doing things by the book, getting upset when things don’t go her way, which seems to make up a good chunk of her performance. It’s not that interesting and we don’t learn that much about her as a person. Gaines is… an asshole. With hair. Dean Norris with hair- is the apocalypse coming? There’s something not right about seeing that man with a full head of fuzz. Anyway, Ruzak? He’s… another asshole. Adult Karim (Idir Chender)? You guessed it, another asshole! Ultimately, no one really stands out as an interesting character.
This is such a shame because the movie has a great set-up for engaging drama: the relationship between Mason and Karim. Mason’s wife died thanks to Karim’s brother. Karim was almost like a surrogate son to Mason. They gave him an education and treated him like an equal. Both were happy. It’s not hard to see why Mason would kind of blame Karim for their lives taking such drastic turns, and it wouldn’t be hard to see Karim to feel guilty about Nadia’s death, and be uncertain about his new path as a terrorist. Emotions should be blazing, but the two characters barely interact with each other. When the reunite, when they’re talking in the van, when Mason is taken to Cal, and the ending. Out of those scenes, only one of them really tried to dive into their conflicting emotions, which was a fairly well done scene, but it’s paced way too fast and should have let the emotions sink in more.
I’m not even entirely sure if I understand what certain plot points had to do with anything. We later learn that Gaines had been stealing money from… I forget who, his own government, I assume. I don’t know, man, this movie was pretty boring and I have a hard enough time keeping up with political espionage spy thrillers as is. But, okay, Gaines has been stealing money and Cal knew about it, but Cal got kidnapped and now Gaines wants him back for what he knows. Um… what does this have to do with anything? Wasn’t the story simple enough when it was about Karim wanting his brother back in exchange for Cal?
Overall, this isn’t a very well-executed film. The acting is there, you get hints of emotional connection between characters, and the movie, at the very least, looks nice to look at. Unfortunately, it’s laced with two-dimensional characters that you don’t really care about, subplots and scenes that seem or straight-up are irrelevant, all of which combined make for a pretty confusing and boring movie. I do not recommend this, either in theaters or a rental. I won’t say avoid it like the plague, as I’ve seen worse films than this, but it’s not good. 109 minutes of boredom, confusion, pointlessness… get out of Beirut.
My honest rating for BEIRUT: 2/5
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