Beirut Movie Review
Beirut is a serviceable spy thriller that feels like a film from another era, even if it ultimately is as remarkable as Jon Hamm’s movie career.
Hamm plays a former U.S. diplomat who must return to Lebanon to help the CIA rescue a friend who has been kidnapped by terrorists. Similar to his role in Mad Men, he’s a master negotiator and an alcoholic, though his womanizing skills are reduced to a few fleeting quips directed toward Rosamund Pike, whose responsibility in the movie is primarily to listen to quips by Jon Hamm.
The great thing about Beirut is that it is fast-paced, entertaining and at least tries to pretend it’s not your typical spy movie, even if it is your typical spy movie. Hamm’s character isn’t the stereotypical spy operative, and the plot boasts enough intricacies to stand apart. Hamm himself is quite good, too.
On the flip side, director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and screenwriter Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity) fall short when it comes to establishing both the physical and emotional stakes of the movie. What sets Beirut apart from other spy thrillers is its core hook, which has Hamm’s character dealing with a terrorist who he nearly adopted as a child—that might be a spoiler, but it’s such an obvious revelation it’s not even worth a spoiler alert. This premise, along with the fact that Hamm also must face his past in other ways, presents some unique opportunities that Beirut could have exploited.
Oddly, when the dynamic between Hamm and his former “son” (Mohamed Zouaoui) is revealed, Hamm’s character reacts in the most emotionally neutral way possible—and never once does the film attempt to explore their relationship in a convincing way. Further, when Hamm comes face to face with the man responsible for the murder of a family member, same thing… no reaction.
And in the end, Beirut almost begs for a neutral reaction. It misses the mark from an emotional perspective, but even the plotting seems diluted—despite the inherent danger, the stakes feel surprisingly low, the scheming by the central characters more shrug-worthy than alluring. Aside from Hamm’s, the supporting characters are poorly developed, the plot good but not great.
Beirut has a few too many issues to really work, but thanks to a strong performance by Hamm and a fast pace that is able to gloss over some of its flaws, the movie nonetheless works at a visceral level. Still, it’s hard not to see the massive potential left on the table.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.