If you miss Jon Hamm in “Mad Men,” go see “Beirut,” a just-released thriller that was picked up after the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. Hamm plays Mason Skiles, an American diplomat who gets dragged into a whole to-do, even though all he does is drink and look sad. Skiles returns to the titular city in 1982, a decade after his initial time there, when it was a much nicer, prettier and all-around better place to be for just about everyone. 1982 Beirut, however, is a city ravaged by civil war and the first Lebanon War with Israel, after which this film takes place. A political thriller this is not, however, though we are treated to several heart-stopping sequences and enough twists and turns to count as a cardio workout. Technically, the film is very well done as director Brad Anderson and writer Tony Gilroy create a taut and well-paced storyline.
Though background knowledge of Middle Eastern history, particularly the American and Israeli narratives, is helpful, it is wholly unnecessary to enjoy the movie. The politics you need to know are explained, and the rest of the movie is focused on the intrigue as Skiles and his CIA minder (Rosamund Pike) work to save a captured CIA agent from the terrorist group that led the attack on the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics. As such, there is a notable presence of Israelis and representatives of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), though the film focuses mostly on the American interests in the area and Jon Hamm, again, being sad and drinking.
If you’re interested in the film, you might also be aware of the controversy the trailer created, and I’m sorry to say that some of the controversy is warranted by the end product. This film isn’t so much interested in the geopolitical intricacies and cultural identities of Beirut or Lebanon as much as it is in being a vehicle for Jon Hamm to, you guessed it, drink and be sad. Don’t get me wrong—he is so good at it and this may very well be the best acting he’s done since “Mad Men.” Yet the opportunity to explore a complicated part of the world is missed here. I’ll give the production the benefit of the doubt, though, and agree with Brian Tallerico’s assessment. That the setting is little more than a location and title might be the point, as the characters in the film are less interested in the place and its people than they are in themselves and their own interests.
Overall, Hamm and Pike are excellent, as are all the supporting characters. The plot, with its many twists and turns, is as straightforward as a movie full of double-crossing double-crossers can be. While the film treats its location more as a canvas than a character, it’s still worth seeing for the performances and fascinating storyline—just know that it’s less about politics and history than it is a vehicle for its actors.