Directed by Brad Anderson and written by Tony Gilroy, “Beirut” is a film that shares a familiar premise with countless other political thriller films on the market: a tense and complicated struggle between two warring sides over a hostage of high importance set in a Middle Eastern country. While the basis of this story is one that has been seen countless times before, “Beirut” manages to stand out from the crowd with the strength of its performances from Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike. However, the overall experience of watching the film feels a bit unbalanced due to some narrative and perspective blunders.
At its core as a political drama film, “Beirut” does a relatively solid job of providing the audience with a suspenseful story that achieves its goal of portraying a conflict with a huge moral grey area created by the complex intentions of the parties involved. This is in no small part due to the strength of the actor’s performances, specifically Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike. Hamm plays a former American diplomat by the name of Mason Skiles who flees from his residence in Beirut after a complicated situation involving the CIA and the Lebanese orphan Mason and his wife wish to adopt escalates into a terrorist attack on his home. Ten years later, he works as a small-time business negotiator in Boston and is forcibly called back to Beirut by the CIA to make a deal with a terrorist militia force for the life of his colleague and best friend (Mark Pellegrino). Hamm is in his element with this role after his time in the shoes of similarly sullen and sharp characters, such as Don Draper in “Mad Men.” He puts on a believable and empathetic performance as a drunken, broken man that remains haunted by his past and uses his skepticism and sharp tongue to eventually complete the deal. His counterpart and co-star Pike plays the role of Sandy Crowder, Mason’s handler provided by the CIA to keep an eye on him. Pike’s character is strong-willed and competent, often putting Mason in his place and taking control when situations get out of hand. The dynamic between these two characters is engaging and their dialogue is well-written and believable. The plot being more deeply rooted in these two characters’ personal lives and struggles also helps give a little more depth to the on-screen events and helps the film to stand out from the dozens of other political thrillers set in the Middle East that have been released in the past decade.
Unfortunately for “Beirut,” good acting performances on their own don’t necessarily save a movie from some of its other glaring issues. The chief issue in this case is the setting and its complete insignificance to the plot or overall context of the film. The setting is Beirut in 1982 during the height of the Lebanese civil war, but the film never tries to actually include any historical context or political tensions of the time period other than some shallow setup for conflict between the Palestinian characters and the Lebanese characters. The plot of the film could be set in various other countries and historical contexts and it would remain largely the same. This area of the film could be greatly improved with a little more contextual significance.
“Beirut” is a film that is interesting on the surface but doesn’t often do enough to make it a truly great film. While the plot and main characters themselves are handled a lot better than they are in many similar films, the setting is never really pushed to the forefront in any significant or supporting role. Collectively, “Beirut” makes a good film for a quick fix of political thriller action but never really makes the push for any deeper discussion or continued significance.