Beirut **

Jon Hamm negotiates a hostage release in war-torn Beirut in this uneven drama. 

Is it worth $10? No 

War-torn Beirut, Lebanon, in the early ‘80s saw tanks driving on beaches as kids played nearby. Hotels rooms had notes that insisted, in the event of an emergency, that guests stay in their rooms and “DO NOT ATTEMPT to take photographs.” Palestinian and Israeli discord, in addition to a decent-sized Christian population, made Beirut so unpleasant and hostile that it was more than unsafe – it was potentially fatal to be there if you didn’t have to be.

With such a setting numerous dramatic opportunities abound, and “Beirut” taps into a good one: An alcoholic former U.S. diplomat named Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) returns to Beirut to negotiate the release of his old friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino), who’s been taken hostage by terrorists. Skiles’ checkered past in Beirut (his wife died there, and his adopted Lebanese son was kidnapped and is still missing), coupled with the simmering tension omnipresent in the seedy underbelly of the city, makes for a compelling premise.

But director Brad Anderson, using a script by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), doesn’t do much with it. One of the issues is that the audience only knows what Skiles knows. When he discovers something, we discover something. This is a problem because he doesn’t want to be there. At times he even resists information that would be helpful, even though we in the audience want to know! So we’re often frustrated. This also means the payoff needs to be darn good in order to make the audience’s patience worthwhile. The payoff is…nothing special. It’s competent. A bit predictable. No real twists or surprises, and certainly not enough to feel satisfying after all the reluctant buildup.

What’s more, you’d think the CIA agents who coerced him to go to Beirut – Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), Don Gaines (Dean Norris), and Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham) – would be more insistent that Skiles has more information. They are not. It’s a “need to know” situation, which makes no sense. Why fly someone across the world and ask him to deal with terrorists in a hostage negotiation, but only tell him the bare minimum he needs to know? Knowledge and leverage are powerful tools in any negotiation, and Skiles has neither.

Tonally this plays like a drama, though there’s certainly action along the way. The story tries to keep you guessing and entertained; it succeeds at the former because it gives you no choice, but it is lacking in terms of entertainment due to languid pacing. It’s also yet another lackluster big screen performance from Hamm, though in fairness the script gives him little to work with. Same goes for Pike, whose career hasn’t exactly taken off after being an Oscar nominee for “Gone Girl” (2014). She too has tried a variety of dramatic roles with nominal success.

Who can be trusted? Is Cal even alive? It’s a bad sign that you won’t really care either way. Everything about the city of Beirut is so awful that you sense this little problem is one of many, and clearly of little consequence to anyone not directly involved. So pardon me for not caring so much about an alcoholic former diplomat who was easily duped into returning to the one place he swore he’d never return to. “Beirut,” much like the city itself, leaves a lot to be desired.

Did you know?
The film was shot in Morocco, and archival news footage of the conflict in Beirut is seen in the end credits.

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