★ ★ ★ ☆
Here’s the overview: In the new thriller “Beirut” former “Mad Man” star Jon Hamm plays a world-weary but sharp-tongued man who has crawled inside a whiskey bottle to numb the pain of his existence.
Now here’s the six-word pitch: Don Draper does the Middle East.
The story begins in 1972 in the title city. US diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm) has lived there on and off for much of his life. He understands the country’s delicate balance of religion and politics but more importantly, he loves the country. Tragedy strikes when Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), a thirteen-year-old orphan Skiles and wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) treat as their own, turns out to have a terrorist brother.
Cut to a decade later. Skiles is now a whiskey-in-his-coffee kind of man living in Boston running a small labour-dispute consulting firm. “His career has gone from Kissinger to the crapper,” says a former colleague. When he accepts an offer (and thousands of dollars) from “the Agency” to return to Beirut he finds a city in ruins, torn apart by a decade of civil war. Escorted by handler Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) he must delve into the murky world of CIA dirty tricks and political agendas to negotiate the release of his one time best friend, CIA agent Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino).
Written by “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” scribe Tony Gilroy, “Beirut” allows Hamm’s now trademarked Damaged Man Routine™ to stay front and centre. It’s a spy story with intrigue and danger—although it should be said there is not much action—that relies on Hamm’s rugged charisma. His struggle is the motor that keeps things interesting, not the character’s ulterior motives or the intrigue. For instance a major a plot twist (NO SPOILERS HERE) is actually more of a straight line than a twist so it is up to Hamm and cast to provide the tension.
“Beirut” feels a tad long, as though some of the scenes of Skiles contemplating the bottom of a glass could have been replaced with something a bit more interesting, like trying to get a release for his old friend. Although Hamm is very good here, those lapses—and the typical pouring-of-the-booze-down-the-sink scene—separate “Beirut” from other, superior talky thrillers like “Munich” or “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
3 ½ STARS