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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

Cinema Review: Beirut

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Some actors struggle to escape their own shadow. Jon Hamm’s imposing presence in TV’s Mad Men might have had him forever identified as Don Draper of the manicured stubble, but if his performance in this old-school hostage thriller is any indication, he has well and truly moved on. The wife of diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm) is killed in a 1972 terrorist attack at their residency in Beirut. Jump forward to 1982 and Skiles is an alcoholic running a small-time company dealing with disputes between employers and their workers. When called upon to return to Beirut to negotiate with the abductors of his old CIA buddy Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), he finds himself caught up in the opaque machinations of intelligence, counter-intelligence, political double-speak and murky back-room deals that prevail in the Middle East. Never entirely sure who he can rely on, Skiles must run his own race and hope that the kidnapper Karim (Idir Chender), known to him from his earlier stint in the city, is as good as his word, and that Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) is more than just ‘the skirt driving his car’. This is a fantastic movie – absorbing, unpredictable and true in its assessment and portrayal of the amorality that festers behind the suits we see on the nightly news. Despite it being a particularly blood-stained period in Lebanon’s modern history, director Brad Anderson indulges in no superfluous violence and because of that the killings that do occur are all the more shocking. Nor does he take sides, with the PLO, Washington, Mossad, the Druse militia and everybody else involved all shown to be as duplicitous as each other. Tony Gilroy, with Michael Clayton and three of the Bourne flicks on his resume, has written a screenplay that is watertight, cohesive despite the story’s complexities, and paced to build to a chilling denouement and epilogue. It is shot in Tangier, but that in no way detracts from the realism in one of the year’s best. And Hamm is great.

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