Tony Gilroy’s cerebral, complex thriller is a perfect antidote for the Springtime blues. People used to talk about how dumb movies were in May and June, but Summer is now year-round which is why supposedly quieter months like February, March, and April have had Sci-Fi/Fantasy CGI-blockbusters opening nearly every weekend. “Beirut” is actually more at home opening in April but the sad truth is that there may no longer be a place in the film calendar for a movie like this: too smart for January through September, too middle-brow for Oscar season.
What Works: How many “Mad Men” fans out there have been praying Jon Hamm can land a decent film role? Well, here it is. As a tragically-widowed, alcohol-soaked ex-diplomat turned negotiator, he’s thrust into the action when his former best friend is kidnapped in 80’s Lebanon by a boy Hamm’s character used to take care of. [Before his wife was killed by the boy’s older, terrorist brother, they had started adoption paperwork.]
Already we’re smack in the middle of the real Middle-East: a nuanced web of rivalries, shifting alliances, double crosses, and untrustworthy allies. It appears the PLO, Mossad, the CIA, Lebanese Christian militias, and rogue Palestinian factions all have their own agendas that criss-cross and back again before it’s all over–but it’s never really over. One wonders if Gilroy read the great David Ignatius novel “Agents of Innocence” as inspiration?
What Doesn’t: Some of the film’s quieter character moments don’t really captivate when there’s much more interesting narratives zig-zagging through them. Whenever Jon Hamm has to act pissed-off or drunk towards Rosamund Pike’s character (which probably takes up a third of the movie), it plays more like filler than character-depth. As a general rule, whenever Hamm and Pike are alone on-screen during the first two-thirds of the movie, you might be able to use the bathroom and not miss too much.
What I Would’ve Done Differently: Remember when I said the “Isle of Dogs” lack of Japanese character depth controversy was ridiculous? Well, I hope I don’t sound too hypocritical but this film might’ve benefitted from an extra Lebanese character or two–not just for appearances, but because the plot could’ve benefitted if we understood more of how the Palestinians are in charge of Lebanon’s Muslim section, something I vaguely understood because I read the immaculately-researched “Agents of Innocence” which lays out Lebanon’s Palestinian safe haven but Middle-East novices may be confused about the larger negotiations happening in the background. But anyone who uses that as a reason to completely disregard this fine film is probably an asshole.