Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Beirut is a thrilling, well-paced, suspense drama starring Jon Hamm as a former government agent called back into the field a decade after a personal tragedy to meet with terrorists and negotiate the release of an old friend. The story is not especially original, but it is very well made and Hamm is really, really good in the starring role. He has the ability to successfully lead a film with the right material, and here he gets an opportunity to show what he can do. He makes everything he does convincing, thus helping turn a solid premise into a very good movie.
One of the most important aspects to making an effectively suspenseful thriller is pace. Filmmakers have to hook the audience early, establish what is at stake and then consistently build toward the climax. All the while complications must be thrown in the path of the hero, adding to the tension. It also helps if there is some kind of deadline for their goal to be achieved. Beirut efficiently does all of these things. It introduces Hamm’s Mason Skiles by showing his downfall, has him hit rock bottom, and then immediately thrusts him back into his old life. This is done with a minimum of fluff. All the key players are presented pretty quickly. The suspense comes from what Mason does not know and who he can trust, as he tries to figure out how to save his estranged friend.
Beirut (105 minutes without the end credits) has time to develop the significant characters and reveals information about everyone else only when it is absolutely necessary. Most of it is set in 1982 Beirut and it does firmly exist in the politics of the period. However, prior historical knowledge is not a requirement as everything is thoroughly explained on a need to know basis. Backstory is used for advancing the plot, not scene setting. The movie is extremely fixated on its story and does not mess around with anything that could dilute its tension.
It is entertaining and exciting without being sensationalized. It focuses more on plot and character than on action. And John Hamm does an excellent job bringing Mason Skiles to life. He is smart, witty and intuitive and easy for audiences to root for. He is a really effective fallen hero and Hamm not only has the skills to make him likable, he is also believable jumping right back into the world he left behind and dealing with dangerous people who do not care if he survives this situation. He fills the role with the talent of a star.
Beirut is exactly what it sets out to be: a solid, intelligent, engaging drama. The screenplay, by two-time Oscar nominee Tony Gilroy, is focused and compelling. Director Brad Anderson tells this story in a direct way, without any attempts at fancy directorial flourishes. He gets out of the way and lets the actors do their thing. And Jon Hamm rewards him by using his natural charisma to deliver his best big screen performance so far. The result is an enjoyable piece of entertainment.
3¾ out of 5
Jon Hamm as Mason Skiles
Rosamund Pike as Sandy Crowder
Mark Pellegrino as Cal
Shea Whigham as Gary Ruzak
Dean Norris as Donald Gaines
Idir Chender as Karim Abou Rajal
Directed by Brad Anderson
Written by Tony Gilroy