(US - 2018)
Directed by Brad Anderson. Written by Tony Gilroy. Cast: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, Mark Pellegrino, Larry Pine, Jonny Coyne, Douglas Hodge, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Idir Chender, Kate Fleetwood, Leila Bekhti, Hicham Ouraqa, Ahmed Said Arie, Sonia Okacha, Mohammed Attougui. (R, 109 mins)
At the risk of sounding wistful or cliched, BEIRUT is the kind of movie you don't see in theaters very often these days. It's a smartly-written, mid-budget political thriller whose target audience is middle-aged adults. It's a star vehicle for Jon Hamm, whose place in pop culture history is cemented thanks to MAD MEN but who hasn't really had a breakout leading role on the big screen, instead standing out in supporting roles in films like THE TOWN and BABY DRIVER. With Hamm's biggest success being on TV and SESSION 9 and THE MACHINIST director Brad Anderson settling comfortably into hired-gun TV journeyman mode in recent years (FRINGE, TREME, BOARDWALK EMPIRE), BEIRUT almost feels like the kind of period piece project that's designed more for a limited series on HBO, FX, or Netflix. On one hand, that's a depressing commentary on the changing landscape of mainstream moviegoing over the last couple of decades that a solid piece of suspenseful escapism like BEIRUT seems like a pleasant surprise. However, in the capable hands of veteran screenwriter Tony Gilroy (the BOURNE series, MICHAEL CLAYTON, and most recently, ROGUE ONE, for which he also handled the reshoots when director Gareth Edwards was relieved of his duties), BEIRUT, which does share a few core plot ideas with 2000's Gilroy-scripted PROOF OF LIFE, is a riveting thriller about the delicate nature of political gamesmanship and double-crossing diplomacy making an already volatile region even more dangerous and unpredictable.
7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE, does what she can with an underwritten role (Sandy is dismissed by Gaines as a "skirt," but then Pike still isn't given that much to do other than yell at Skiles when he needs a kick in the ass), but Norris is perfectly cast as a duplicitous, untrustworthy dick with an Oscar-caliber rug, while Whigham is at his sneering best, barely tolerating Skiles' meddlesome involvement in the entire negotiation process. But BEIRUT is Jon Hamm's show from start to finish, and he proves himself a capable leading man who probably would've been better served by Hollywood movie studios if he was around in the '70s and '80s. He's displayed a gift for comedy and proven his versatility in supporting roles and ensemble feature films, and BEIRUT leaves no doubt that he can carry a movie but it's an anomaly in today's distribution model that declares everything a disappointment if it doesn't make $100 million out of the gate. BEIRUT is the kind of mid-range film that used to turn into a word-of-mouth sleeper hit in April or September and maybe make $25-$30 million and everyone would be happy. But those days are gone. It's not going to make a ton of money, but it'll enjoy a long life on streaming and cable, acquiring fans shocked that they'd never heard of it before.