Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike star in the political thriller “Beirut” written by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) and directed by Brad Anderson. The film, while it depicts true events in Lebanon’s history, takes a fictitious situation and brings together the ugliness of war and its motives while humanizing each level. Thankfully, the writers give enough back story to allow for those not familiar with Beirut’s history to more completely understand this complex and on-going strife among Isreal, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.).
Mason Skiles (Hamm) is the charismatic government mediator, living a high-profile life with his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) in Beirut in the early 1970’s. The couple have taken in a young Lebanese boy and while his innocence is questioned, the volatility of the situation escalates and Nadia is inadvertently gunned down. The film’s foundation has been set in stone as we fast forward 10 years to 1982.
Skiles has never recovered from the loss of his wife, finding himself as a small time mediator back in the U.S. with a major drinking problem. But Skiles is requested to take on a mediation job back in Lebanon as a friend who is a high-ranking official with decades of confidential information has been taken hostage. Reluctantly, Skiles travels back to the place that created the broken man he has become.
Skiles meets CIA official Sandy (Pike) and the two begin to work together, testing each other in an effort to unravel the convoluted information they have been provided. There’s more to Sandy’s story than meets the eye, but that seems true of everyone Skiles meets. Reunited with former colleagues, Skiles is thrown right back into the thick of things, but his past seems to be haunting him. The clock is ticking and Skiles must address these ghosts while pushing forward before time runs out for his old friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino). The brutality of this war-torn country is not just visually evident, you recognize it emotionally as well. From citizens hiding in their homes to the self-proclaimed military rebels, no one seems to value life. There are shockingly horrific scenes that remain in your mind, hoping that this only happens in the movies. It’s total devastation, fighting for concepts and idealisms that will never right the wrongs from the past. The story certainly doesn’t paint Israel in a positive light, but it does make you look more deeply at the issues that still create tension in this small but volatile area.
Hamm creates with exceptional skill, the definition of a broken-hearted, flawed and jaded man. Initially a gallant man who has it all, he easily transforms into an unkempt, self-loathing loser who must revive himself. It’s a nuanced performance supported by Pike’s portrayal of an intelligent women of that era, treated in a less than equal way. Dean Norris is almost unrecognizable with a full head of hair, but his unmistakable intensity and focus in his role as Donald Gaines, Skiles former boss, is familiar and welcomed.
“Beirut” is an intense political thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time, unsure as to who to trust and waiting for the next unexpected twist to show itself. It’s a harrowing tale blending history and fiction together impeccably utilizing deft direction and skilled performances.