American films

Beirut film review: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike in engaging 1980s-set political thriller

Hamm plays a former US diplomat who is reluctantly persuaded to return to Lebanon and negotiate the release of a kidnapped CIA officer, in this entertaining drama that shows sensitivity for the ravaged country it’s set in

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2018, 7:00am

3/5 stars

Set in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war in 1982, Beirut follows a former US diplomat as he is persuaded to return to Beirut and negotiate the release of a kidnapped CIA officer.

Still reeling from the death of his wife 10 years earlier, Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) reluctantly agrees to revisit the scene of the crime, where Israeli, Palestinian and American interests are wrestling control of the country away from its people.

Brooding and soaked in whisky, Skiles is an easy stretch for the Mad Men star, and Hamm does a compelling job of juggling grief and self-hatred, with competency and a genuine desire for peace in the region. Rosamund Pike likewise ensures that CIA agent Sandy Crowder is more than window dressing, or a potential love interest for Skiles.

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When its trailer was first released, there was much stamping of feet that Beirut projected stereotypical images of Middle Eastern fundamentalism, while falling back on another white saviour narrative. But what writer Tony Gilroy and director Brad Anderson portray is a country brutalised by the interference of unwanted foreign powers, with Skiles and Crowder tasked with cleaning up their country’s own mess.

Rather than attempt to condense Middle Eastern politics into two hours, the film embraces a cold war spy thriller vibe, creating a vibrant and authentic sense of place, and populating it with engaging characters and an exciting, high-stakes plot. Beirut isn’t going to solve any issues or change any minds, but it does entertain and display compassion for its ravaged locale.

Beirut opens on July 12

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