Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence and a nude image
In English and Arabic with subtitles
Running time: 109 minutes
Production Studios: Radar Pictures / ShivHans Pictures / Kasbah – Film Tanger
Distributor: Bleecker Street Media
In 1972, Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) was a career U.S. diplomat delighted to be serving his country overseas in Lebanon. In fact, he and his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) were so comfortable living in the Middle East that they had decided to adopt Karim (Idir Chender), a 13 year-old Palestinian refugee.
This, despite the fact that the destabilized region had a history of easily falling into a state of unrest where warring factions remained on edge for months, if not years. As a seasoned veteran, Mason had become fast on his feet and knew to keep the lines of communication open because the fighting starts once the talking stops.
However, that philosophy proved futile the fateful day that a colleague, Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), arrived with some shocking news. He announced that Karim could be a security risk since his older brother was Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), an infamous terrorist who had just taken part in the massacre of 11 Jewish athletes participating in the Summer Olympics staged in Munich.
Before Mason had a chance to react, gunmen burst into the house and start taking hostages. By the time the dust settled, Karim had disappeared and Nadia lay dead with a bullet in her head. Therefore, Mason never got a chance to discern whether the orphan they had welcomed into the family with open arms was secretly a radical Islamist.
Fast-forward a decade, and we find the still-grieving Mason addicted to alcohol while pursuing a totally different line of work in Boston. Then, he receives word that his old pal Cal has just been kidnapped in Lebanon. It doesn’t take much for the U.S. State Department to coax him out of retirement. But can Mason lay off the booze, and does he still have what it takes to handle such a sensitive assignment?
That is the intriguing premise established at the outset of Beirut, an edge-of-the-seat, political thriller cleverly crafted by Oscar-nominee Tony Gilroy (for Michael Clayton). The picture was directed by Brad Anderson and features a top flight cast that includes Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris and Shea Whigham.
The plot thickens upon Mason’s landing in Lebanon when he learns that the mastermind he must deal with is none other than the now-grown Karim, who is willing to exchange Cal for his missing brother, rumored to be languishing in an Israeli prison. A raw, super-realistic tale of revenge, set in a godforsaken kill zone not on this critic’s bucket list.