Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Mark Pellegrino, Larry Pine, Shea Whigham, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Idir Chender, Jonny Coyne, Kate Fleetwood, Yoav Sadian Rosenberg, Larry Pine, Ahmed Said Arif, Hicham Ouraqa, Leila Bekhti
Written by: Tony Gilroy
Directed by: Brad Anderson
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and a brief nude image
Running Time: 109
Date: 04/13/2018

Beirut (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Lebanon Drop

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With direction by pro genre filmmaker Brad Anderson and a smart, dense screenplay by Tony Gilroy, this political thriller reaches a satisfying combination of snaky, heady talk and fun popcorn thrills.

In Beirut, it's 1972, and U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) is in Beirut throwing a fancy cocktail party for all kinds of political elite. His wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) is there, as is the 13 year-old orphan Karim that has become like part of the family. Agents show up claiming that Karim has an older brother, terrorist Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), and that Karim must be taken away; the day ends in tragedy.

Ten years later, Mason tries to forget his past. He drinks too much and is working as a lowly labor-dispute lawyer in the States. He is approached and offered money to return to Beirut to lecture at a University, and reluctantly accepts. There, he meets CIA agent Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) and State Department officials Gaines (Dean Norris), Ruzak (Shea Whigham), and Shalen (Larry Pine), and learns the real reason his presence was requested. His old friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino) has been kidnapped, and the man behind it is none other than the grown-up Karim (Idir Chender).

Though by no means an accurate representation of a history or of a culture, Beirut is more along the lines of a spy thriller the way they used to make 'em, with an American star drinking and swaggering his way through a role, staying a jump ahead of the bad guys and making it look good. Hamm captures just the right combination of emotional damage and seasoned expertise to make his Mason Skiles compelling.

Gilroy, who wrote many of the Bourne movies, laces his screenplay with barked arguments, terse meetings, heated accusations, furrowed-brow discussions, and realizations that certain parties cannot be trusted. It's a bit brainy, and requires attention to be paid.

But the movie knows when to cut loose with a chase, a foray into dangerous territory, or a shootout, and Anderson — a veteran of horror and suspense with films like Session 9, The Machinist, Transsiberian, and The Call under his belt — responds with crisp, tight, economical filmmaking. Despite its downbeat setting and bleak images, Beirut aims instead for diverting, grown-up entertainment and neatly succeeds.

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