Directed by Brad Anderson
Starring Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris
With a cast like Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, and Dean Norris, along with screenwriter Tony Gilroy and director Brad Anderson, you may expect a rather muscular film from this troupe. It’s almost the case in this just-about satisfying political thriller that has to work quite hard first before it achieves what it sets out to accomplish.
Beirut begins with a prologue in 1972 that introduces Mason (Hamm), a well-off US diplomat living in Beirut with his wife and young foster protégé Karim. During a house party, Mason is gravely informed by Cal (Mark Pellegrino) that Karim’s brother is looking for him – and with that, the party is ambushed by gun-fire, leaving the wife dead and Karim taken back by his brother. Cut to 10 years later and a still-mourning and now-alcoholic Mason is teased away from his hum-drum job in America and back to Beirut to investigate the kidnapping of Cal by an adult Karim, who will trade him for his brother.
And so begins the lengthy and arduous search for the brother, resulting in Mason and his team of CIA helpers, including Sandy (Pike), going through a series of escalatingly brutish scenarios. Gilroy’s script is as bulkily story-focused as you might expect, playing out like a dense and pulpy political-thriller novel, but Brad Anderson’s cinematic aesthetic feels too TV-esque to really impress – the very real and lived-in locations of Beirut are stunningly brought to life, but they’re encased in a very familiar tale that seems to hit most of the predictable beats.
Beirut’s music, which is non-stop stereotypical Middle Eastern music, simmers on the soundtrack for what feels like the majority of the film – it’s a pretty good example of more being less, as it often alleviates a lot of necessary tension and drama from the film’s more intense scenes. The most effectively surprising moment owes its effectiveness to the lack of music played, and more of the film could’ve benefited from this to make the events in the film feel more real and less like they were in a movie.
It’s hard to tell if Beirut is a very bland film all the way through and it has the power to drag the audience down to its level, or if it escapes its blandness at the mid-point and manages to become an accomplished thriller as the tension gets further tightened. Despite the news footage book-ends, there doesn’t feel like a great deal of socio-political awareness in Beirut – it feels like its main priority is to be an exciting thriller set in the Middle East, but it takes quite a bit of time to get to the excitement.