Film

Beirut

Don Draper in the Middle East

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A quarter-century-old script dusted off after the success of Argo brightened the box-office outlook for negotiation-based espionage tales, Beirut emerges a cracking intrigue closer in spirit to something like The Year of Living Dangerously than to that 2012 Oscar winner—or to scenarist Tony Gilroy’s more action-focused Bourne movies. Expertly directed by Brad Anderson, and starring Jon Hamm in top form, this complex but cogent tale of an anxious fictional hostage situation in 1982 Lebanon is a satisfying suspense movie.

In 1972, Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) is a U.S. diplomat living the good life in Beirut with his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti). They have no children of their own, as yet, but treat 13-year-old orphan refugee Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg) as “part of the family.” During a posh cocktail party, however, uninvited guests bring unwelcome news: Not quite so alone in the world as he’d pretended, little Karim has an older brother, and he’s no less than Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), a notorious Palestinian terrorist linked to the recent Summer Olympics massacre in Munich as well as other attacks.

Mason is trying to prevent the boy being dragged off for interrogation by Mossad agents when the party is scattered by gunfire. The elusive brother has turned up to nab his sibling before the Israelis do. An ensuing skirmish has tragic consequences for Mason, whom we next see 10 years later working as a labor-dispute mediator in Boston, completely cut off from his high-flying past. But that past surfaces unexpectedly when a distant acquaintance finds him drinking (as usual) in a bar. He’s offered thousands to immediately get on a flight to Beirut—the place he never wanted to see again—ostensibly in order to lecture at a university. He only consents because it’s clear the real reason is some matter of pressing importance, and “the Agency” won’t take no for an answer.

He arrives well-lubricated to find the city he loved now in ruins after years of civil war. His designated minder, cultural attaché Sandy Crowder (Pike), immediately turns him over to a trio of CIA, embassy and State Department officials (played Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, and Larry Pine) who reveal they’re dealing with a hostage situation: CIA agent Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), the onetime best friend Mason hasn’t spoken to in a decade, has been kidnapped.

Why the perps specifically requested Skiles as negotiator soon becomes clear. Their leader is a now-grown Karim (Idir Chender), who trusts his former benefactor can broker an exchange for the release of the brother he believes is in secret Israeli custody, for what’s by now a very long list of pro-Palestinian terroristic acts. But the Israelis (repped by Alan Aboutboul’s military bulldog) claim they don’t have him, and probably wouldn’t give him up if they did. On the other side, the local PLO minister (Ahmed Said Arie) has his own personal and political hidden agendas—as do even the Yanks present, with their competing departmental priorities and careerist schemes.

Realizing he’s perhaps the only person here who really cares about saving Cal, Mason keeps giving Sandy et al. the slip to operate freely in his friend’s best interest. Eventually, however, he discovers Sandy is an ally, and they’re both willing to “go rogue” if necessary.

Gilroy and Anderson have managed to make a plausible suspense story (the script was loosely inspired by CIA Station Chief William Buckley’s 1984 kidnapping, which had a very different outcome) riddled with political intrigue in the world’s geographic center of perpetual conflict—while keeping it relatively apolitical, in the sense of taking no particular “side.” That’s largely because, apart from our flawed but genuinely well-intentioned heroes, nearly everyone here operates out of duplicitous self-interest.

Hamm’s bleary but still debonair presence, Gilroy’s cynically witty dialogue, and the not-quite-confusingly-large array of colorful characters underline how Beirut aims to be less a statement about Middle Eastern strife than a good yarn propelled by the unpredictable currents of international politics. There’s an atmosphere of constant threatened violence, and a few jarring moments of the actual kind. But mostly the film trades in an agreeably old-school form of cinematic espionage intrigue. He may be no James Bond (a man who’d never admit that his alcohol habit is a problem), but Mason remains singularly unflappable even as he’s crashing through heavily armed checkpoints or stepping over the rubble of his old home.

It may turn out that Hamm needed a post-hit-series warm-up stretch to hit his stride as a movie star. The fact that Mason bears considerable general-makeup overlap with Don Draper (in his boozing, jaded humor, resistance to team-playing, self-destructive streak, fundamental decency, etc.) doesn’t render less valuable the snug fit between actor and role. It’s a fine showcase.

Smoking Crow
More Film...
Bombshell
The genius of Hedy Lamarr

For years we’ve been hearing that Hedy Lamarr, one of the most beautiful women of Hollywood’s classic era, invented the “frequency hopping” technology that’s integral to modern weaponry and communications. But exactly how that’s the case and the extent to which that is true have…

more »
Outside In
Lynn Shelton’s latest

One of the bittersweet recurring images we see in Outside In, Lynn Shelton’s sharp and stirring new drama, is of a man riding his bicycle. Chris (Jay Duplass), a scruffily handsome 38-year-old, has just returned to his sleepy Pacific Northwest hometown after two decades in prison, having…

more »
Back to Burgundy
A full-bodied story

Wine helps the emotions flow, but so, apparently, does winemaking in Cedric Klapisch’s absorbing family drama, Back to Burgundy, a film so rich and pleasurable you’d be forgiven if you thought about it each time you have a glass of red.

Set in the picturesque winemaking region of…

more »
Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

The Lewis & Clark Expedition

10:00am|Mount Baker Theatre

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Mt. Baker Plant Sale

3:00pm|Mt. Baker High School

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running

Canadian Exploration

6:30pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Mexican Kitchen

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Get Gritty

7:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Misty Flowers

7:30pm|Chuckanut Center

Village Books
Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

Mt. Baker Plant Sale

3:00pm|Mt. Baker High School

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Deming Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Ship of Fools Closing Reception

5:00pm|Cooper Lanza Gallery

Inspire Higher Dreams Gala

5:30pm|Silver Reef Event Center

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Wilderness and Wellness

7:00pm|Village Books

Cantabile Chamber Choir

7:30pm

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall

The Kid

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Legends and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Saturday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

Mt. Baker Plant Sale

3:00pm|Mt. Baker High School

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Deming Library

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall

Cantabile Chamber Choir

7:30pm

Legends and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall Post #154

Have a Heart Run

9:00am|Edgewater Park

Senior Center Plant Sale

9:00am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Hydrangeas 101

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Linuxfest Northwest

9:00am|Bellingham Technical College

Everson Garden Club Plant Sale

9:00am|Everson-Goshen Rd.

Independent Bookstore Day

9:00am|Village Books

Backyard Habitat and Native Flora Fair

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Vaisaikhi Day Celebration

10:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Sudden Valley Garden Club Sale

10:00am|Sudden Valley Dance Barn

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Sculpture Tours

10:30am|Big Rock Garden Park

Growing Dry Beans and Grains

1:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Panel discusses oil sands pipeline

3:00pm

Klee Wyck Journal

4:00pm|Village Books

Visions of the Soul Opening

5:00pm|Forum Arts

Spring Has Sprung Opening Party

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Naomi Shihab Nye

7:00pm|Performing Arts Center

Moon Walk

7:00pm|Whatcom County

Contra Dance with Incognito

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Dylan Foley and Eamon O'Leary

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Skagit Symphony Classics Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Paula Poundstone

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1