The Lebanese Civil War lasted for a little over 15 years, killing tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers. The devastating internal skirmish involved over a dozen political groups and militias, as well as poking and prodding from countries on the outside looking in. It’s the kind of military history that would take Ken Burns more than a season on PBS to lay out in a cohesive and intelligible manner. Just imagine trying to have the Lebanese Civil War as the backdrop to your political thriller. That’s what BEIRUT tries to do and spectacularly bungles.
Mason’s (Hamm) life in 1982 is at a standstill. He nurses alcohol at dive bars and handles petty labor disputes for a living. It wasn’t always like this. Just a mere decade ago he was an American diplomat in Beirut, hosting swanky parties, wrapping his arms around a gorgeous wife and offering kindness to the locals. But one act of kindness, the taking in of a teenage boy without family, leads to terrorists crashing into his home, shooting his wife and taking that boy from his home.
It makes for an impactful beginning, but doesn’t do enough to set the stage for humdrum political intrigue. When Mason is approached at the dive bar in ‘82, he’s given the opportunity to go back to Lebanon to negotiate a hostage release. Adding mystery to the fray is that boy he took under his wing and into his home 10 years ago. As to whether or not that child has been radicalized or is a victim of circumstance, the film doesn’t bother to take any kind of provocative or sympathetic approach to the answer.
I’m a little disappointed in BEIRUT, especially since I know Jon Hamm is a superb actor. I wasn’t a fan of AMC’s show MAD MEN, but I understood why it was such a media darling; mainly Hamm. Hamm is good at be imposing, yet small; humorous, yet vile. He’s proving to be a versatile actor, but BEIRUT rarely plays into those strengths. There’s a lot similarities between Don Draper and Mason in terms of alcoholism, self-absorbed narcissism, and being a cunning chameleon in diplomatic situations. But that doesn’t translate to any tense situations or fulfilling moments in BEIRUT.
It’s also disheartening to see folks like Rosamund Pike, Larry Pine and Dean Norris having their talents squandered in monotonous material. I don’t know if I should completely toss this film under the bus because it still did something right because I wasn’t totally out of the film by the runtime’s end. I wanted to see the loose ends tied up and a satisfying conclusion to Mason’s arc. I attribute that to Hamm’s God-given charisma and natural likeability. I attribute the lack of a fulfilling end to the writers.
BEIRUT is grim and sometimes emotionless. There’s this cardboard cutout reaction sometimes by characters that should be rawer with the scenarios playing out on screen. There are a few instances of it by Hamm and Pike, but they can only do so much to keep everything chugging along smoothly. I really wanted to like BEIRUT based on the historical angle it was willing to take two great actors, but it managed to do a paint-by-numbers story.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) It’s a gorgeous looking film that does a fine job capturing the brutal sun and heat of the desert.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) I had no problems audio wise with this blu-ray.
The Story Behind BEIRUT (2:57): A chiseled down behind-the-scenes feature where the cast and crew talks about nearly every aspect of the film in unremarkable fashion.
Sandy Crowder (0:51): A feature so short, I’m not sure if anything was actually discussed.