Beirut Drama

Film Review: 'Beirut' Delivers an Engaging Political Thriller Set Against a Turbulent Backdrop

April 13, 2018Sherry Li

Beirut, directed by Brad Anderson and written by Tony Gilroy, best known for the Bourne movies, takes advantage of its fantastic cast and creates an engaging and thought-provoking political thriller that will leave viewers' attention fixed to the screen.

The film, which is largely set in the 1980s, opens a decade earlier in pre-civil war Beirut. Jon Hamm plays Mason Skiles, an American diplomat who has settled into his life in Beirut quite comfortably — he's married, has a lovely home, and works a prestigious job — until terrorists attack his home, killing his wife in the process. They come for Karim, the orphaned boy who Mason considers to be family and has taken under his wing, and who has a brother named Rafid Abu Rajal, who is also a wanted terrorist. Ten years later, Mason has left Beirut far behind, until his old friend Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino) is kidnapped, and he must return to a completely different Beirut than he once knew to try and save him.

It soon becomes clear why Mason has to be the one to save his friend Cal — it's Karim's group who has him, and they'll only swap him in return for Rafid, who they believe is in custody. Mason, whose only goal is to save Cal, has to figure out who he can trust quickly, before it's too late.

Though the movie is set in a time of immense turbulence in Lebanon's history, the story is largely centered on American politics and the country's relations with Israel and Lebanon. There are quite a few shots that showcase the disarray in Beirut at the time, featuring bombed buildings, militia and ruins, but the film largely focuses on the tension between the individual characters, as opposed to the tension in the city.

While these scenes are a bit on the nose, in particular the shot of children running with toy guns, they are necessary to give viewers an understanding of how much the city has changed since Mason had last been there. However, there could definitely have been other ways to do it that would have connected the audience to Mason's grief more, instead of showing them these images. I think that shattering Mason's personal perception and memories of Beirut and his memories of a city he once loved would have been just as powerful, if not more so.

Jon Hamm's turn as Mason is enthralling throughout the film, and he captures the character perfectly. Though the character doesn't feel entirely unfamiliar from his Mad Men role, the charisma Hamm delivers on screen is undeniable. The entire cast, which also featuring names like Dean Norris, Shea Whigham and Rosamund Pike as Sandy Crowder, the CIA agent assigned to watch over Mason, all give incredible performances.

However, it is Karim and Mason's relationship, which makes up only a few scenes, that I found the most compelling. While it is interesting to watch Mason navigate and outsmart those around him, Karim is the only character with whom he has a significant relationship that viewers can connect with. The movie brings up a lot of questions about who Karim truly is, and I wish that it had explored their relationship a little bit more.

Despite these shortcomings, Beirut is still a great film for fans of political thrillers, and will not disappoint.

Beirut releases April 13th, 2018 from Elevation Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language, some violence and a brief nude image. Its runtime is 1 hr. 49 min.

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