Hot Take: Thanks to Jon Hamm, Beirut is a just above average thriller with enough gas in the tank to keep you intrigued for the nearly 2 hour run time.
Jon Hamm’s television career was defined by his role as Don Draper on the long-running hit Mad Men. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with Hamm’s work on that show as it never made my watch list. His film career has been less auspicious with very few starring roles and a number of solid but unspectacular supporting roles. In Beirut, Hamm is cast in a long overdue starring role as a former U.S. diplomat who is asked to go back to Beirut to help negotiate a hostage release. It’s a rather generic thriller from writer Tony Gilroy of Bourne franchise fame but Hamm’s presence along with support from Rosamund Pike and a handful of typical bit players (Dean Norris being in this type of movie is a great example of unsurprising casting) kicks the film just above mediocrity and delivers a mostly satisfying viewing experience. The ’80s Beirut setting adds to the film’s feel of a film that was sitting around in a vault somewhere… or maybe that’s the 27-year-old script which was dug out of Gilroy’s storage bin, dusted off and given the big screen treatment.
The film opens in 1972 at the Lebanese home of U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm). Hosting a party for other U.S. and foreign dignitaries, Skiles’ CIA friend Cal (Ron Pellegrino) informs him that a Lebanese boy Mason and his wife (Leila Bekhti) recently took in is wanted in connection with the 1972 Munich massacre. As Mason tries to reason with his friend and others from the CIA, a shootout occurs at the house and Mason’s wife is killed and the Lebanese boy is taken by his brother. Ten years later, Mason has returned to the U.S. and is now a labor contract negotiator for Unions and their companies and also an alcoholic. He is contacted by the U.S. government and offered a substantial amount of money to return to Beirut to lecture at a university. Eventually, Mason decides to take the money and go back to Beirut. Once there, he’s contacted by a group of State department officials — Donald Gaines (Norris), Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham), Frank Shalen (Larry Pine) and CIA officer Sandy Crowder (Pike) — where he’s recruited to be a hostage negotiator to gain the release of his former friend Cal. Initially, Mason balks at the idea but then finds out he was requested. In the initial meeting with the kidnappers, Mason finds out that the kidnapper is the Lebanese boy Karim (Idir Chender) who reveals he will exchange Cal for the release and return of his brother.
The rest of the film is a race against time and the typical exercise in distrust between Mason and the officials as Mason can’t discern whether or not they want Cal to be released or dead. Hamm shines in this role and is easily the best part of the film. The film itself would have been lost in the shuffle in the late ’80s and early ’90s but feels more like a novel throwback to a different style of movies that graced the box office. While these films are still prevalent, they have definitely slowed down production of this genre. That gives the film less of a stale taste than it would have had had it found it’s way to theaters 2 decades sooner.
Beirut isn’t a must see but isn’t a terrible watch, especially with the presence of Hamm. While maybe not worth the trip to theaters (unless you longed for Sunday nights to watch Mad Men during its run), once Beirut hits streaming devices or winds up on cable, it is definitely one to take a look at even if you only have the slightest interest in thrillers and international espionage. It won’t be found on many (if any) Top 10 lists for 2018 but it will rarely find the bottom of any lists, either.
You dig on swine… errr… Hamm!
You feel like these types of thrillers should have been left back in the ’80s and ’90s where it seemed they were released almost weekly.