Starring John Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino, Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, Idir Chender
I’m not sure where filmmakers are getting info that the American public want to see thrillers set in the middle east. Beirut is the second film to take place in the middle east starring Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike in less than 30 days. Beirut is a higher quality film than the recent 7 Days in Entebbe, both in performance and delivery. However, neither film offers audiences something they haven’t seen before. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy, Michael Clayton) certainly has success with these types of governmental espionage thrillers. It’s director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) who doesn’t orchestrate Beirut into something more accessible.
Lebanese diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm) left Beirut under tragic circumstances in 1973. It would be his last time working with the American government. The relationships he built during his time in the middle east have been forgotten as he tried to salvage what remained of his life. Ten years later he’s summoned back to Beirut when a former colleague is kidnapped, those responsible ask for Skiles specifically. He reluctantly returns to the country, meeting with two American spies, White House spokesperson and the ambassador. The situation more dire than initially perceived, as certain parts of the government are conspiring to allow Israeli forces complete military jurisdiction. Undercover CIA agent Sandy Crowder (Pike) becomes the only person Skiles can trust.
What works with Beirut are some of the performances, manly Hamm and Pike, but also how the past is used as a plot point.
What works with Beirut are some of the performances, manly Hamm and Pike, but also how the past is used as a plot point. What doesn’t work is the vast amount of characters, not cast particularly different from each other in appearance. No offense to character actors Dean Norris and Shea Whigham, but you guys look like blank white faces in suits. Names like Ruzak, Gaines, Teppler are thrown around casually before the audience really has a hold on who belongs to which name. Calling this a thriller is a stretch, while there is a built up to moments of great tension, over an hour is spent setting up a scenario that feels Argo-lite. In fact, Beirut and other recent middle eastern films seem continually interested in tapping into what Argo and Zero Dark Thirty pulled off.
With so many moving pieces, few of them engaging, it’s easy to get lost in the dust watching this film. While Hamm (Baby Driver) is given most of the screen time, the television actor continues to struggle finding his footing in Hollywood cinema. Pike (Hostiles), typically very peculiar on which roles she takes, has taken two in a row now that belittle her capabilities. Beirut is simply redundant in the type of genre specific details it’s offering. As the film ends with an American flag, there is little sense of accomplishment or understanding of the struggle that part of the world endured. Beirut is another film in an outdated genre that’s not appealing to American widespread audiences.
Beirut is another dusty, middle eastern espionage thriller that offers nothing new for audiences.