‘Beirut’ is an Espionage Thriller that Forgot to Include the Thrills

Beirut_(film)This, “7 Days in Entebbe,” “Hostiles,” “A United Kingdom…” I can’t remember the last time Rosamund Pike starred in a film set in the 21st century…

Set in 1982 during the Lebanese Civil War, “Beirut” stars Jon Hamm as a former U.S. diplomat turned union negotiator who gets thrown back into the political ring when a former colleague is taken hostage by terrorists. Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, Larry Pine and Mark Pellegrino also star as Brad Anderson directs.

This film reminds me a lot of the 2016 Bryan Cranston vehicle “The Infiltrator.” Both are films that star a former AMC TV series leading man, are made by small studios and are about political conflicts in the 1980s that the CIA must try to fix. They have similar feels, too; that stock “thriller of the week” type look and tone. That film was just OK, with the central performance being solid but the overall product being a bit dry and by-the-numbers and it’s a lot of the same here, too.

I like Jon Hamm and think he is great in supporting roles like “The Town” but have always felt his true calling may be comedy (his roles in “Bridesmaids” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” are great and he shows comedic timing in his H&R Block ads). Here he is doing dramatic work, playing a man who has lost his wife and ten years later is coping with the inevitable baggy eyes and alcoholism. That being said, despite waking up and putting whiskey in his coffee and bosses saying his drinking could be a problem, he never actually appears to be drunk in a scene. He has some good delivery and yelling moments but the role itself just is pretty bland and doesn’t give him much room to work.

All the supporting cast are doing their typical shtick, with Rosamund Pike playing the well-meaning operative, Dean Norris acting as the growling leader and Shea Whigham being the shady, shifty agent. No one stands out or is memorable, but at the same time no one is awful or chews any scenery.

The film premiered at Sundance in January so that implies the production budget of the project was relatively low, so for that it is to be commended. Shot in Morocco in 2016, the film does feel like it is set in the 1980s as opposed to simply being a modern film with the word “1982” slapped on the screen. Characters smokes cigarettes, bomb-shelled buildings lie on every street corner like it’s no big deal and a countries biggest concern is getting aerial shots of enemy camps (because satellites and undercover jets weren’t really in the mainstream yet).

The best parts are when Hamm is attempting to negotiate, and to see the back-and-forth and wait-and-see that goes into diplomatic trades, even when human lives are at stake.

The film’s problem is that it just isn’t very interesting through a large chunk of the runtime. We get introduced to the players and are just expected to remember their names, and there are never any real stakes. For a film that sets itself up as “Jews vs Muslims vs Christians vs the government vs the Americans” there is hardly any “who can we really trust?” moments and it never lives up the bar set by the films it is clearly trying to imitate.

“Beirut” is a pretty bland film set in a far-from-bland region in a pretty chaotic period in history. Fans of the subject or Hamm may get more out of it than the typical moviegoer but I felt the urge to check my watch or fight back a yawn on a few occasions and that’s a shame.

Critic’s Grade: C

Bleeker Street

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