BEIRUT: When an American diplomat (Jon Hamm), sporting the world’s cheesiest hair style, explains in the opening scene that betrayal is ingrained in Middle Eastern culture (Judas, anyone?), you know that you’re in a landscape where multiple double crosses lie ahead. That this same diplomat and his family are violently betrayed in that same sequence really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s the movie’s backstory that fast forwards to 1982 where the now alcoholic former negotiator is recruited by a CIA operative (Rosamund Pike) to bargain for the release of a former colleague (Mark Pellegrino) being held hostage by terrorists. The decade long transformation of the title city from a cosmopolitan coastal playground to a civil war torn battleground gives the film an atmospheric feeling of an environment where a deadly attack is possible at any given moment. But Tony Gilroy’s (THE BOURNE IDENTITY) screenplay drifts away from the complexities of the Mideast conflict, which is oversimplified throughout the movie, into the moral complexities of the characters whose agendas remain hidden even though it’s fairly predictable to discern whose hands are dirty. Although the promise of a narrative with a hard-edged exploration of the Middle East crisis and its players is made, it delivers little more than an elementary view of the subject matter before deciding to take the more mundane route of a formulaic, shallow thriller. Hamm (BABY DRIVER) skillfully melds his world wise, Don Draper persona from “Mad Men” into his role as a very flawed human who’s accomplished at “playing” other people, if not himself. But overall, the film is a rather mediocre effort at trying to make an old-fashioned spy tale of intrigue with plot twists that are foreseeable enough to be seen clearly from a mile away. With apologies to John le Carre, BEIRUT should have just been left out in the cold with no invitation necessary to come in. CRITIC’S GRADE: C+
CLOSING CREDITS: For a far more compelling and complex cinematic examination of the politics of the Middle East, I highly recommend SYRIANA (2005). As he did in TRAFFIC (2000), screenwriter Stephan Gaghan, who also directed the movie, employs multiple storylines involving a corporate, trouble-shooting attorney (Jeffrey Wright), an energy analyst (Matt Damon) who suffers a tragic loss, a betrayed CIA operative (George Clooney) and a behind the scenes power broker (Christopher Plummer) who are all working to try and control the global energy market. The movie was chosen as the year’s best adapted screenplay by the National Board Of Review and Clooney earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.