Film Review: Competent but conventional "Beirut" isn't worthy of Jon Hamm
Old-fashioned to the point of being elderly, Beirut is a meat-and-potatoes thriller. As written by acclaimed screenwriter Tony Gilroy (he of Bourne fame), it’s certainly tightly plotted, and even thrillingly tense at times.
But the familiar conceit, a reluctant but competent white man swept up in the complex geopolitics of a foreign land, never shapes into a tale that hasn’t already been told hundreds of times. It looks great and it seems adult and serious as it's going through the motions. Beirut prizes efficiency and craftsmanship over eliciting a genuine emotional reaction. My feeling is that it’s good; but so what? If there’s any reason to see Beirut, it’s Jon Hamm’s performance as the aforementioned white man.
Hamm plays Mason, a smooth-talkin’ guy who’d been living it up in Beirut in 1972 until it all crashed and burned in a sudden whirlwind of violence. He returns to the US an utter wreck, downing drink after drink in between half-heartedly working as a labor arbiter.
However, a decade later he’s approached by the CIA to return to Beirut. Mason is tasked with a delicate mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA operative. With Mason being an alcoholic mess, and with a few faces from his past returning to haunt him, the potential for shit to go sideways is high.
If you’re familiar with Mad Men, you know that very few can do the whole “nursing a drink while compartmentalising a lifetime of regrets”, better than Jon Hamm. Post Mad Men, Hamm has been fooling around in a number of slapstick-y comedies, perhaps in an effort to avoid being typecast as a handsome, inscrutable talent with a superhuman alcohol tolerance, but it’s a pleasure to see him back to form here. Sadly, Rosamund Pike is underused, and everyone else is merely an icy cypher of self-interest.
There’s political intrigue abound in Beirut. The actors do their jobs well and director Brad Anderson has put together a thriller that sometimes thrills, when it's feeling gracious. But who remembers a meat and potatoes dinner, really?