Beirut [Review by Haus]
Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike are downright serviceable in Beirut, an old-fashioned, workaday little spy picture set in the war-torn Lebanese capital in the early eighties. It checks the boxes and keeps things moving, but it lacks sufficient depth, historical context, gee-whiz tricks, or flat-out thrills to really move the needle.
Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a onetime academic, agency initiate, and Beirut station chief. But when a 1972 shoot-em-up upends his life and drives him to drink, he washes up in a drizzly, glum American northeast seasoned with land yachts, smoldering cigarettes, and carpeted bars. He’s yanked from this limbo in ’82 by a mysterious request summoning him back to Beirut. Gone is the pretty city he knew — in its place, a dusty, bombed-out husk. An American has been kidnapped, you see, and our flawed antihero has been asked for by name. (Even though he’s not exactly a spy, and seems to have few actionable skills aside from drinking while sweaty.)
Pike plays Sandy Crowder (ahem – reusing your names, Tony Gilroy? Remember Karen Crowder?), an agency “skirt” assigned to keep Hamm on the straight and narrow. Together (or at least somewhat together), they navigate their contacts in the various warring factions, trying to broker a deal to get the purloined American back home.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this setup, and it plays well, if a little old-fashioned. And that’s the issue: Beirut just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Beirut feels a lot like Spy Game, if that movie had focused on just one of its several vignettes, and stripped away all the cool tradecraft and back-room agency dealing. (Which, to be fair, were its best parts.) The resulting film is engaging enough, mostly interesting as a period piece and a travelogue of sorts. (I always like a film to take me somewhere, and this one certainly does.) But it feels limited: It raises (and answers) no larger questions. In a time when the Arab Spring sputters along on life support and refugees of civil war are front and center in the news, you’d think screenwriter Gilroy (the Bourne films, and the truly fantastic Michael Clayton) could’ve culled something a tad more resonant from this source material.
In the end, Beirut is a decent little thriller, an old-fashioned yarn pitting a flawed-and-square-jawed, hard-drinking American against a chorus of sweaty schemers with bad intentions. The acting is solid, the story is present and accounted for, and it trots along nicely. But golly, I just kept thinking — this could have been more.
Haus Verdict: Spy Game without the tradecraft, Beirut is an old-fashioned, workaday little thriller that takes aim at greatness, but flubs the shot. See it on an airplane.
Beirut opens Wednesday, April 11.
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