Thursday, 2 August 2018

BEIRUT : Tuesday 31st July 2018.

'BEIRUT' which I saw earlier in the week is an American espionage thriller offering that received its Premier screening at the Sundance Film Festival back in January this year and was released Stateside in early April. Directed by Brad Anderson whose credits include numerous television series episodes and feature films including 'The Machinist', 'Transsiberian', 'The Call' and 'Stonehearst Asylum', and is Co-Produced and Written by Tony Gilroy of the 'Bourne' series fame amongst many other notable scripting credits including 'Rogue One', 'Michael Clayton', 'Duplicity' and 'State of Play'. The film has received generally favourable Reviews and has so far taken US$7M at the Box Office. This release has also received much online and press criticism for its stereotypical portrayal of the Lebanese people, Arabs and Muslims; depicting a confusing misrepresentation of the history of Beirut; ignoring the political complexities of the region; and for not using any Lebanese Actors in the Production. The Lebanon has called for its boycott on social media channels. I guess you'll just have to decide for yourself.

Set in 1982, in Beirut, Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) was a former U.S. diplomat to Lebanon who ten years previously was living in Beirut with his Lebanese wife, Nadia, who was killed in a gunfight during a party at their home. That gunfight involved Rami Abu Rajal, the older brother of thirteen year old allegedly orphaned Palestinian Karim (Yoav Sadian) who had been taken in by Mason and his wife and who were in the throes of arranging sponsorship papers for him and his full time education. Rami it transpires was linked to the recent Munich Olympics massacre and was believed to be in Beirut although unconfirmed. Mason's good friend CIA Agent Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino) interrupts the party stating to Mason that he wishes to question Karim about his brother, whom Mason nor Nadia had no knowledge of, and about whom Karim was very evasive. Just at that point, all Hell breaks loose during the party resulting in the bloody carnage.

Fast forward to 1982 and Skiles has crawled inside a bottle and is working as an industrial relations arbitrator in New England. However, out of the blue, as he is rounding out another tough day at the office at some local dive bar, he is approached by a former client acting on behalf of the US Government. After quickly renewing acquaintances the man states that he is on official business and that Skiles has been asked to attend an academic lecture in Beirut. The man then hands over an envelope containing US$6,000 cash, a first class plane ticket, hotel reservation and a new passport. Mason states that he would never step foot inside Beirut again. The man leaves, so allowing Mason the chance to ponder his decision.

Needless to say, Mason doesn't need much convincing and he travels to Beirut. There he meets a select number of State Department officials - Donald Gaines (Dean Norris), Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham), and Frank Shalen (Larry Pine) together with CIA Field Agent Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) and learns that Cal Riley has been abducted in Lebanon, and his kidnappers specifically asked for Mason Skiles to negotiate his release.

Now the gathered group of negotiators meet with the kidnappers where they discover that Karim (Idir Chender), now approaching his mid 20's, is leading the group. Karim demands the release of his brother Rami, whom he believes is being held captive by the Americans, in exchange for Cal Riley. Skiles protests that they do not have Rami, but suspects that he is being held by the Israelis. So Skiles and Ruzak travel to meet with an Israeli governmental official, who also announces that they do not have Rami.

The next day, while Skiles is finalising the lecture that was his 'official' business reason for visiting Beirut, a car bomb explodes directly outside the building. In the carnage that follows immediately afterwards, Skiles is bundled into a truck and blindfolded and taken to a secret location to meet Karim. Karim takes him to Riley as proof of life. Riley, beaten, bruised but not down, covertly tells Skiles that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) that he refers to in code as 'Peace, Love, Only', is holding Rami, and that Gaines should not be trusted, and a photograph back in his apartment will provide the evidence. Before releasing Skiles, Karim gives him an ultimatum for later the same night to return Rami by 2:30am, or he will sell Riley to Iran. Skiles goes to Riley's apartment to search for the photographic clue, where he encounters Crowder. After a brief standoff, she reveals that Gaines had been stealing money from the US Embassy, and that Riley had been preparing to draft a report shortly before he was kidnapped. Crowder had located the photograph previously and removed it, knowing that Gaines would also be searching for it.

Skiles convinces Crowder that the PLO is holding Rami. She steals US$4M from the CIA office in order to trade Rami for Riley. Skiles sets up the trade for Rami having parted company with US$3.9M to buy Rami from the Israeli's, and at 2:30am brings him to the exchange with Karim. After exchanging Riley for Rami, Rami is shot and killed by a Mossad sniper from a nearby bombed out building. The Americans narrowly escape with Skiles sustaining a non life threatening shot to his arm courtesy of Karim's henchmen, who needless to say are none too pleased with the sudden turn of events.

Before leaving Beirut, Skiles learns that Gaines has unexpectedly retired, and Ruzak has left Beirut. Crowder announces her intention to apply for the newly-vacant jobs, and Skiles offers his services as a negotiator. Riley and Skiles part company with a smile and a handshake saying that they should not leave it so long next time between drinks. 

'Beirut' is a well crafted old school type thriller that shows a war ravaged city at its knees and the governmental wranglings on going between the US, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine as each vie for a piece of the action and to gain the upper hand through almost any means necessary. Jon Hamm is well cast in the role as the leading man for once, and delivers Tony Gilroy's script with a world weary alcohol fuelled realism and believability that keeps the story grounded, and very much of the era in which it is set. Rosamund Pike, whilst having a lesser role is no less convincing as the undercover agent tasked with keeping Skiles alive and ensuring the mission is a success - she's one of the good guys here, and she doesn't turn corrupt at the end either which is a bit of a refreshing twist. At times the film drags its heels a little, but this is only a minor criticism and this is certainly worth the price of cinema entry.

'Beirut' merits three claps of the Odeon Online clapperboard, from a possible five.
-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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