The new thriller Beirut by acclaimed screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the Bourne series) certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) has produced a gripping, suspenseful film that leans partially on historical fact to weave a complex and intriguing story.
Former US diplomat Mason Skiles (superbly portrayed by Jon Hamm) is the hard-drinking focus of the film – and he plays the role with much aplomb.
Initially set in the early 1970s before the devastating civil war in Lebanon, Beirut is laced with tragedy.
When Skile’s wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) is killed in a terrorist attack, Skiles soon returns to the US to forget his demons.
However, his past comes back to haunt him ten years later when the CIA come calling, urgently requesting his return to Lebanon on a seemingly innocuous visit to give a lecture at the University.
Sorely tempted, the boozing Skiles – who has been eking out a meagre living mediating low-level labour disputes in Boston – accepts the well-paid offer.
He is instantly transported into a chaotic and tumultuous world, and soon finds himself a target of some of the hardliners.
He also discovers the real reason behind his visit, which is to help save his friend and former diplomatic buddy Cal (Mark Pellegrino), who has been taken hostage by terrorists.
Without giving too much of the plot away, Skile’s only ally is Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike): a cultural attaché who appears, superficially at least, quite ambivalent to him.
As the film progresses, the political ramifications of the hostage taking become more apparent – most especially in the US State Department’s dealings with Israel, a country which appears to be on the verge of invading Lebanon.
In a nutshell, Skiles needs to find a highly dangerous terrorist (with links to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation or PLO) urgently, in order to exchange him for his old friend and colleague.
The film is loosely based on the abduction of CIA station chief William Buckley by Hezbollah in 1984, although the aforementioned terrorist group does not get a mention in the film.
With much of the action revolving around Skiles’ search for the elusive terrorist, the film is highly reminiscent of a John le Carre drama.
Beirut also boasts an ensemble of terrific character actors, including the three US State Department officers, played by Dean Norris, Shea Whigham and Larry Pine.
The civil war in Lebanon is portrayed vividly, and the aerial and artillery bombings certainly seem very ‘close to home’ at times.
In essence, Beirut is an excellent ‘edge-of-your-seat’ thriller that keeps you guessing right until the end.
Beirut is showing exclusively at Luna Leederville from Thursday July 26, 2018.
By Mike Peeters
Jon Hamm in Beirut