By Dave B.
Beirut (2018, currently on Amazon Prime) is an international spy thriller starring Jon Hamm as Mason Skiles, a former U.S. diplomat who is dragged out of retirement ten years after surviving a tragedy in Lebanon’s capital city in 1972. Once a rising star in the American diplomatic service, Skiles is rapidly drinking himself to death in an effort to forget the pain and loss he has suffered. While battling his personal demons, he tries to use his undiminished negotiating skills to find his former best friend who has been kidnapped by a terrorist organization.
On some levels, there’s a lot to like about Beirut. Hamm is a great actor and he delivers a committed performance. The cast as a whole really steps up to the plate and provides, if not a homerun, at least a solid triple. The direction and cinematography are excellent. Viewers will feel immersed in the environment of war-torn 1980s Beirut. Seeing a once vibrant and cosmopolitan city reduced largely to rubble and divvied up between warring factions, while the populace goes about their day to day lives, is a moving experience at times. And frankly, the movie’s theme of redemption is fairly compelling.
Despite these positives, Beirut is a bit of a mess. It’s plot is unnecessarily convoluted, with additional minor plot points, such as s corrupt official, thrown in and resolved as afterthoughts and for no clear reason. The movie attempts to address the political dynamics influencing the different factions in the Lebanese Civil War, but these efforts are haphazard and shallow. Beirut isn’t a documentary, nor is it trying to be, but I can’t help but wish that the movie dealt with complex geopolitical, cultural, and sectarian motives in a more thorough way.
Further, as far as spy thrillers go, Beirut is pretty standard fare, lacking major surprises or unique perspectives. The “good guys” and “bad guys” are who you expect them to be, which is unfortunate. With the wealth of onscreen talent in this film, the final product would have been better if it’s writer had made the plot and the secondary characters more nuanced and less one-dimensional. In some ways (at least as far as the characters are concerned) it’s the opposite of the problem that exists with Jack Ryan. In that show, the secondary characters are full of depth and possessed complex motivations and interests, while the main protagonist is basically a caricature of a hero. In Beirut, the main protagonist has a fully developed personality, but every other character is flatly written, relying on superior acting to give them life.
Overall, Beirut is entertaining. But it neither requires, nor offers, any emotional investment. Not every movie needs to, however it’s clear that Beirut could be more than what it is: a solid, but unexceptional spy thriller that consistently seems afraid to be bold throughout its 110 minute runtime. I’m recommending it, largely on the strength of its performances. But there are definitely better and bolder films in this genre.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.