Monday, July 16, 2018

Movie Review: Beirut

Beirut *** / *****
Directed by: Brad Anderson.
Written by: Tony Gilroy.
Starring: Jon Hamm (Mason Skiles), Rosamund Pike (Sandy Crowder), Dean Norris (Donald Gaines), Shea Whigham (Gary Ruzak), Larry Pine (Frank Shalen), Mark Pellegrino (Cal Riley), Idir Chender (Karim Abu Rajal), Ben Affan (Jassim/Rami), Leïla Bekhti (Nadia), Alon Abutbul (Roni Niv), Kate Fleetwood (Alice), Douglas Hodge (Sully), Jonny Coyne (Bernard), Mohamed Zouaoui (Fahmi), Mohamed Attougui (Raffik).
It really wasn’t that long ago when a director like Brad Anderson could have carved out a nice little career for himself. He has never been an auteur, but he has skill behind the camera in films like Session 9 and The Machinist. He knows how to craft a film, to slowly build suspense, and get fine performances out of his cast. 30 years ago, he likely would have had a string of mid-budget movies on his resume – and been seen as a solid craftsman. But those mid-budget movies have mostly vanished, and with it, the kind of steady work someone like Anderson could count on. He still makes films – but now there is years and many TV directing assignments in between them. His latest film, Beirut, is the type of film that they don’t make all that much anymore. It’s got movie stars and a budget – not a huge one, but more than most indies, but it isn’t trying to be a blockbuster either – it just wants to be a solid, smart, exciting thriller for adults – and by that measure, it mainly succeeds.
The film opens in 1972 in the title city, with Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) a young, hotshot diplomat with a beautiful wife living the high life. One night, everything goes horribly wrong – all because of the brother of the local boy he and his wife are sponsoring – Karim. A decade later, Mason is back in the States, a functioning alcoholic who has given up his fancy diplomat career to resolve local labor disputes. He is miserable, and doesn’t seem to want to get any better. That’s when he gets an odd request – something he knows has come from the CIA. They want him to return to Beirut – but won’t tell him why. When he gets there, he finds out it’s because an old friend of his – Cal (Mark Pellegrino) has been kidnapped – and the terrorists have specifically requested Mason. What follows is a fairly standard thriller, in which Mason has to figure out who he can trust, and who he can’t, and do what it takes to get his friend back.
Hamm really is quite good in the role of Mason. Those brief opening scenes sees him in full movie star mode – relaxed, charming, confident – but he’s better later on, slouched over in a dirty suit, practically sweating alcohol, but still exudes that smart cool he does better than anyone. He anchors the movie with his performance – he’s pretty much the center of every scene – and it’s the type of performance I expected to see more from him after Mad Men, but he hasn’t quite gotten. The supporting cast is all fine – but you kind of wish that when you have the likes of Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, Larry Pine and Mark Pellegrino that they would give at least one of them something more interesting to do than they do here. Pike is particular is mainly wasted here as Mason’s babysitter – until the final act when she finally gets to step up.
The screenplay is by Tony Gilroy – and while it doesn’t rival his work with Michael Clayton or one of the Bourne movies, it still moves with ruthless efficiency. It assumes the viewer has some working knowledge of Beirut at that time- the looming war with Israel wanting to invade, the PLO and other Muslim factions at odds with them, and each other, and just keeps plowing through the story. Because the movie wasn’t actually shot in Beirut – it was done in Morocco – the city never really becomes much more than rumble and sand and dimly lit rooms in the background.
The whole thing moves along at a quick pace, and has several plot twists and turns – most of which, in all honesty, you will see coming before they get there. But the film is mostly smart, mostly engaging, mostly well made – and has a great central performance from Hamm. It’s the type of film we used to get dozens of a year, and now sadly we get very few. This is an unambitious programmer for adults – and we could use more of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment