‘Beirut’ Film Review: Jon Hamm Mired in Muddled Middle-East Tale

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“Beirut” is a complicated movie about complicated people in a complicated situation. (Bear with me.) Its narrative complexity is nothing if not constant. If screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s objective was to encourage audiences to pay attention to the details, then he’s probably succeeded.

In short: “Beirut” revolves around former U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a drunk and wayward “expert negotiator” who was booted out of government work at the tail-end of 1972. During the intervening decade, Cal (Mark Pellegrino, “Supernatural”), an ex-colleague of Mason’s, has been taken hostage in Lebanon. The hostages have requested that Mason be the CIA’s point person to forge a deal. The CIA operatives, namely Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) and Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham), reluctantly agree to their terms. Back in Lebanon, Mason is forced to confront his sordid past while also attempting to rescue his best friend.

There are more complications. In “Beirut” and Beirut, there always seems to be more complications. Under the direction of Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”), Gilroy’s screenplay takes the antithetical approach to “less is more.” Scene after scene, we’re given more names and organizations (and then acronyms for those organizations) than is probably necessary.

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To fully map out the inner workings of this movie, you’d need to give each audience member photos, pins, and yarn to connect the dots throughout. You’d also need a flashlight, so that people could make amendments as “Beirut’s” plot breathlessly twists and turns. Anderson’s breakneck delivery of new information will either be thrilling or exhausting for prospective viewers.

Gilroy has a tendency to offer stories that take more than a single viewing to fully process. “Michael Clayton.” “Duplicity” and “State of Play” are all examples of films that can dazzle just as easily as they enervate. Mileage may vary. Although what’s lacking in “Beirut” is a solid through-line to keep people invested — “Clayton” had the cool calmness of George Clooney, “Duplicity” had the sexual chemistry of Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, and “State of Play” had, y’know, Helen Mirren.

At the forefront of “Beirut” is Hamm, who is now entering a new chapter in his career post-“Mad Men.” He’s a curious case: On one hand a tremendous talent, and on the other, a tremendous talent who has routinely appeared in inconsistent fare since putting Don Draper to rest. He does what he can in “Beirut”; Hamm is charming, quick-witted, can turn dramatic on a dime.

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But the film has a tendency to undercut Mason’s livelihood, or lack thereof. He’s a man whose been stripped of both his partner and career, left now to work on middling low-level deals in middle America. Even when Mason is given the opportunity to return to the big leagues of the CIA, there’s a sadness to him.

He can hardly believe he’s been granted a second opportunity. He’s more confounded than grateful, though. The resurgence is a reminder of a former life he messed up; as a result he turns to the bottle. Mason’s drinking is not played for laughs, but it’s also not seriously examined. Gilroy bypasses the psychology of his central character, the how and why of Mason’s internal dilemma. There’s another film in “Beirut” where one could investigate how talented (and good) people make bad decisions, how people like Mason subconsciously self-sabotage themselves, preventing any sort of progress or growth.

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Instead Anderson leans into the action-thriller of it all There are shootouts and explosions, city-wide chases and impressive stunt work. “Beirut” contains all the elements of a fun, snappy, pre-summer jaunt. And yet the film is actively in competition with itself. The tone is grim and honest when it wants to be, but not necessarily when it needs to be.

There’s a level of specificity to some aspects (the archival footage that bookends the film), and laziness in others (Mason’s familial ties to Lebanon). Mason may very well be saving his best friend, but we’re given nothing more than sunset flashbacks of a joyous dinner to inform that friendship. The characters’ consequences are more spoken than felt.

And the consequences of this movie are similarly sparse. Brad Anderson has three upcoming films in the next couple of years, and Gilroy (who originally penned this script in 1991) has rarely been without employment. Jon Hamm is Jon Hamm, and eventually a film will better utilize his abilities. All will be well for everyone involved. Sometimes gifted people make not-so gifted art.



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‘Beirut’ Review: Jon Hamm Delivers Best Work Yet In Compelling International Thriller

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Well, better late than never. It has taken screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s script of Beirut only 27 years to reach the screen, but it was well worth the wait especially in that it gives its leading man Jon Hamm a movie role worthy of his talents. So why did it take so long for the script Gilroy wrote near the beginning of his career in 1991 to get made? Chalk it up to the mysteries of the movie industry, or perhaps just bad timing. Whatever the reasons, Beirut, which details a…

Signature Strikes UK Distribution Deals For Movie Trio Including Jon Hamm-Rosamund Pike Thriller ‘Beirut’

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UK distributor Signature Entertainment has finalized deals for three movies, including Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike thriller Beirut and Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd comedy Ideal Home, I can reveal.
In Beirut, which Signature picked up from Trumbo and Captain Fantastic production outfit ShivHans Pictures, a U.S. diplomat flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by a CIA operative to negotiate for the life…

‘7 Days In Entebbe’ Review: Even A Top Israeli Dance Troupe Can’t Rescue Yet Another Telling Of The 1976 Hijack Drama

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If you are going to make yet another movie about Israel’s brave and heroic rescue of the hostages during the 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, it would be wise to come up with a fresh angle. After all, as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch) there were several film projects already made including two quickies from the year the June incident happened (Raid On Entebbe, Victory at Entebbe), several documentaries,  and an…

Sun Valley Film Festival Line-Up Includes ‘Finding Your Feet,’ ‘Beirut,’ ‘Leave No Trace’

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The Sun Valley Film Festival has released the line-up for this year’s event which runs March 14-18. The documentary “Science Fair” will open the festival and “Finding Your Feet” by director Richard Loncraine will close it. The list of films include “Beirut,” starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike, as well as “Leave No Trace” directed […]

‘7 Days in Entebbe’ Film Review: Docudrama Revisits a Legendary Israeli Rescue

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The 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight full of French and Israeli nationals and the one-shot-in-a-million rescue that then ensued has already inspired a documentary, two made-for-TV movies and one Golan-Globus opus. (I particularly recommend the outrageously cast “Victory at Entebbe” — starring Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Lancaster, Richard Dreyfuss and Anthony Hopkins, among many others — but each telling has its own unique appeal).

So with “7 Days in Entebbe,” director José Padilha’s task was simple: find something new to say about the 1970s most famous air rescue. To that end, he ably succeeds at his goal, even if the project itself never quite soars.

Padilha lets you know that this ain’t your run-of-the-mill geo-thriller right from the start, kicking things off with something rarely found in films of this ilk — a dance sequence. The opening titles set the geo-political stage over choreographer Ohad Naharin’s celebrated modern-dance piece “Minus 16,” a performance the film returns to at several key points, including during its otherwise routine action-film climax.

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And that interplay between military raid (no calling spoilers on something that happened nearly 42 years ago!) and modern dance speaks to the larger aim of the film, which tries to stay true to the facts of the story while slightly deflating codes of the genre.

Take the ostensible protagonists: in this case, the hijackers themselves. Actors Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike play the real German reactionaries who boarded that fateful flight in July 1976 and, with the help of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, forcibly rerouted the plane to Uganda. Far from stock bad-guys, these ersatz terrorists are Marxist idealists in over their heads and uncomfortably self-aware. They know full well how it looks to the rest of the world when a pair of Germans take a plane full of Jews hostage, but like everyone else in this tick-tock procedural, they’re stuck playing their part.

While the hijackers and hijackees wilt in the heat of Idi Amin’s (Nonso Anozie, “Zoo”) personal fiefdom, Israel’s doveish PM Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi, “Foxtrot”) and hawkish Minister of Defense Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) squabble in the corridors of the Knesset over just what to do. The script by Gregory Burke (“’71”) treats these tense debates with similar nuance, recognizing them for they really are — power struggles in a precarious parliamentary government.

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Finally, the third narrative thread, which follows special ops soldier Ziv (Ben Schnetzer, “Goat”) as he trains for the mission, is most notable for what it doesn’t do. That is, by focusing on this composite character instead of the real-life military hero who has best come to be associated with Operation Thunderbolt, “7 Days in Entebbe” reiterates its more sober-minded approach. While Unit Commander Yoni Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni, “Shots Fired”) — yes, Bibi’s brother — does play a role here, he has much less the out-sized influence he’s given in other film versions, or even in the accepted cultural view.

That’s the film’s central goal: taking this culturally ingrained myth and draining it of clear heroes and villains while breathing life into the uncertain day-by-day process. And although interesting on the page, it does result in a slow-burn film that can often feel dramatically inert. Nearly every scene offers some variation on the same set-up, where characters sit around waiting, worrying and smoking.

The ultimate success of “7 Days in Entebbe” varies from scene to scene, and even more from actor to actor. As pill-popping hijacker Brigitte Kuhlmann, Pike convincingly pulls off a good deal of German-language dialogue while conveying her character’s growing descent into drug-fueled mania. On the other hand, as the wily Minister of Defense, Marsan goes to war with the Israeli accent and loses a resounding defeat. That whole narrative leg suffers as a result.

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Ultimately, the film doesn’t quite succeed within its own stated goal. “7 Days in Entebbe” wants to offer a somewhat dispassionate view on the whole affair as a geo-political event that encompassed a number of overlapping parties, but it never fully fleshes out the Palestinian hijackers with the same texture as it does the German ones. While Brühl and Pike live rich narrative arcs as their extremist idealism spirals into chaos, their PFLP counterparts only get to represent agents of said chaos.

That isn’t to say that the film should offer a defense for what was an objectively terrorist act, only that the film talks a good game (and even dances up a storm) without ever walking the walk.



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