Beirut's talented actors move through the motions 

Formulaic Hamm

click to enlarge While Beirut is cookie cutter action movie stuff, Jon Hamm is always great

Courtesy Bleeker Street

While Beirut is cookie cutter action movie stuff, Jon Hamm is always great

Gotta give it to Jon Hamm. The man knows how to be cool. Even in moments of sheer stress and exacerbation, he looks cool. If Dos Equis hasn't already, they need to hire him as their spokesman. Recently in Mark Pellington's Nostalgia, he made morose seem like an emotion to strive for simply because he makes even depression look cool. Jon Hamm is synonymous with charisma is what I'm saying. I'd like to see him in more movies of this ilk. I could see him playing the cop that doesn't play things by the book. Hell, he's never even read the damn thing because he's a rogue mofo. It'd be great to see him achieve George Clooney level success.

In Beirut, he plays Mason Skiles, a diplomat living in 1972 Beirut schmoozing with other Americans at a swank wingding. He is fairly sure he understands the politics of the region. That is until a bomb goes off, killing his wife and leading to the kidnapping of Karim, an orphan the Skiles had recently taken under their wing. Ten years later, Skiles is a heavy drinking fella paying the bills by mediating labor disputes at a hotel. In no time, he is asked (read: forced) to revisit his old stomping grounds to help facilitate the release of a former colleague. The request for his presence comes from the captors. What follows is a labyrinthian trip into the messy politics behind hostage negotiations written by Tony Gilroy — the man behind the Jason Bourne series as well as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — and Michael Clayton.

After Watching Brad Anderson's (Session 9, The Machinist) film, I was reminded of the time I saw Salmon Fishing In Yemen. In that film Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor dramatically rom-comed their way through Yemen while helping a sheikh introduce fly-fishing. I remembered walking out of that film, annoyed specifically because, to me, it was yet another story where a white person saved the day. When I watch a movie, I try my best to check my personal views at the door and just watch it from a storytelling perspective. I can't begin to count the numerous comedy and action films I've enjoyed without letting my beliefs get in the way. That time I failed.

I mention this because three months ago, the trailer for Beirut was released online. There was outrage over racial and cultural stereotypes the trailer seemed to reinforce as well as the fact that the film was shot almost entirely in Morocco, with no filming in Lebanon, and starring nary a Lebanese person. It has birthed a petition and a movement calling for it to be boycotted. The controversy surrounding the film is why this review exists. I made a concerted effort to look beyond the political-ish misgivings I had with the film. I think I succeeded. I left my politics back at the McDonald's where I just picked up my Egg McMuffin combo. Even when I recognized something that made me bristle, I quickly let it go.

click to enlarge COURTESY BLEEKER STREET
  • Courtesy Bleeker Street

With that 95 percent politics-free mindset, I watched a film that I'm pretty sure I've seen before. Honestly, I can't remember too much. It was a political thriller with a likable protagonist and a complex hostage situation. Middle Eastern music plays throughout. Things get tense. People speak sinisterly. A bomb goes off. Negotiations are made. Things get tenser. People yell angrily. Guns go off. It all ends with a "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown" sentiment lamenting the futility of endless conflicts and war. For what it's worth, I think everyone from Hamm to Rosamund Pike to Shea Whigham to Dean Norris acted the hell out of their scenes. If you scrolled Beirut's "Customers who watched this item also watched" list on Amazon you'd likely find Argo, Syriana, Traffic, Munich, and The Kingdom. If you enjoyed those films, you will probably enjoy Beirut. While I definitely didn't hate the film, it didn't leave me feeling any kind of enthusiasm other than seeing what Jon Hamm does next.

Beirut — Directed by Brad Anderson, starring Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, and Dean Norris. Rated R.

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