(Release Info London schedule; August, 12th, 2018, Red Cinema, 12:20)
Caught in the crossfires of civil war, 'CIA' operatives must send a former U.S. diplomat to Beirut to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.
In 1972 Beirut, American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) hosts a cocktail party accompanied by his wife and Karim (Yoau Saian Rosenberg), the 13-year old Lebanese orphan whom they hope to adopt. The festivities are disrupted when Mason’s best friend, CIA Agent Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino) arrives with startling information about Karim. Seconds later, terrorists attack the party with tragic results. Ten years later, Mason, now an alcoholic working as a mediator for labor disputes in Boston, gets approached by a stranger in a bar, who hands him a passport, cash and a plane ticket along with an urgent invitation from mutual friends that he travel to Beirut. Reluctantly, Mason arrives in Beirut only to find that the formerly picturesque city on the sea has become a violence-ridden warzone. Mason soon discovers the real reason he’s been called back. 'CIA' and 'Embassy' officials Donald Gaines (Dean Norris), Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham) and Ambassador Frank Whalen (Larry Pine) explain that terrorists have kidnapped a CIA agent. Mason’s mission; negotiate a swap for the release of terrorist leader Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), believed to be imprisoned by Israeli secret police, in exchange for the American. Navigating the rubble-strewn city with the help of his Embassy-assigned handler, savvy cultural attaché Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), Mason secretly meets with the kidnappers and uncovers clues that help him unravel competing agendas advanced by Israeli military boss Roni Niv (Alon Aboutboul), 'Palestinian Liberation Front' minister Bashir (Ahmed Said Arif) and corrupt bureaucrats. Confronting ghosts from his past, Mason faces a formidable question; who do you trust in a world where the truth emerges only when it’s convenient, or profitable? A taut action thriller from director Brad Anderson, Beirut takes an unflinching look at the cost of freedom.
Mason Skiles is a communicator rather than just a terminator. He’s not some guy who solves everything by throwing a magic hammer or casting a spell or doing things that don’t really exist in life. As a negotiator, Mason’s gift is that he’s able to talk to people not in a backhanded or sneaky way but by basically saying, 'you've something I want and I've something you want'. We've to find that place where we both leave something on the table and ideally, each of us gets a little of what we want. When people live in a country not their own they need to have tremendous respect for local culture and local politics to understand what’s actually happening on the ground. He’s a facilitator. He wants both sides to win. He’s not there to undermine the other government at all. There’s a great deal of respect and intelligence that goes along with that approach. When we first meet Mason, he seems to have it all together, trying to do good things in the world. He's extroverted, almost like he’s showing off. That’s why the film puts him in party duds with the off-white suit. This cocktail party is his territory. He's in control. Then, in a few terrifying seconds, Mason’s life falls apart. It takes a while for Mason to pull himself out of this profound tragedy.
Ten years later, Mason’s outfits signal his slide into alcoholism as a demoralized, backroom labor negotiator. It's important to create a disheveled, deconstructed type of mishmash of different things in order to communicate the fact that Mason’s life is falling apart. Then when he comes back to Beirut, the audience focuses on the character and plot more than his wardrobe. There’s one shot midway through the film where Mason’s dressed in an Oxford shirt and loafers while he walks through a deserted city square that’s just been completed destroyed. That’s the kind of contrast that's really exciting, as a way to show Mason’s alienated state of mind. When he goes back to the place where it all happened, that’s where Mason begins to find some happiness and his place in the world. When you think about the terrorism and fundamentalism and the political intractability in Beirut, which is all still sadly true today, it’s important to look at the reasons behind all that. How did we get here? In addition to Beirut’s politically charged themes, the film looks forward to exploring the personal trauma that lends depth to Mason’s journey.
Sandy Crowder’s job description as a keeper of secrets impacts the character’s personal life in compelling ways. She can’t really trust anyone so Sandy doesn’t let people get too close. She’s sort of a proto-feminist who’s there for the adrenaline rush. It's a tough world for women in the agency in the ’80s. There were very few female agents. There are 14 pay grades within the CIA and most women hit the ceiling at around level seven. She’s defined by her actions. Sandy’s decisions under pressure eventually affect the outcome of the whole story and that6s pretty exciting. She comes in as this mystery person in the second act, so it's interesting to forge the relationship between Sandy and Mason. He doesn’t really know this person but he has to trust her. That dynamic dovetailed very nicely with the film’s political nature and intrigue as the film figures out where the story is leading and why. 'CIA' agent Gaines (Dean Norris) is a guy, who represents a hardball approach to international problem solving. You need both the carrot and stick. You hope Mason can make diplomacy work but you always need somebody like Gaines so you've the heavy hand of 'The CIA' backing it up. Shifty political operative Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham) loyalties are to the president. He’s very much a company man who’s in Lebanon to fix this situation before it goes bad and he’ll make a deal with the devil if necessary.
Big political themes don’t get addressed very often in movies anymore. This movie deals with something important rather than just having the action element or a comic-book element, which seems to be the tenor of most large-scale movies right now. At the time, Beirut is a hot topic because Tom Friedman’s book 'From Beirut To Jerusalem' has just come out. "Beirut" has a historical setting, it feels true to life without actually being a true story. The fictional script based around facts on the ground including the 1984 kidnapping of 'CIA Station' Chief William Buckley. It's all very garish and gothic, not too clean like an American movie but more European style. Against the backdrop of a politically dysfunctional Lebanon, the film strives to develop the interior psychology of his hero in the manner of master spy novelist John Le Carré. His books were extraordinary, although they didn’t always make for good movies because they're so hard to condense. And then the idea of a character like Mason, who’s faced with great disappointment; that’s very much a John Le Carré thing. Mason is a character in need of redemption, which is also true for Jason Bourne and Michael Clayton.
"Beirut", is about people trapped inside a political situation, while at the same time Mason is forced to confront his past and his own weakness. But "Beirut's" fictionalized portrayal of U.S., Israeli and 'PLO' scheming in 1982 Lebanon ultimately proved too hot to handle. The problem is that the script is accurate. 'The PLO' didn’t have exemplary behavior. Israel did not have exemplary behavior. 'The U.S. State Department' did not have exemplary behavior. Nobody looked good at that moment in time except for the hero of this story. The script is still very intense but the political radioactivity has completely subsided. There’s not much argument anymore about what happened in Lebanon in the winter of 1982. It’s also an emotional journey about characters in this war-torn part of the world who are trying to find some goodness or something hopeful that they can hang onto. Thrillers today tend to be violent, over-the-top action movies or else they rely heavily on some kind of technological solution, whereas "Beirut" is very human.
A period thriller loaded with resonance for contemporary audiences, "Beirut" revisits the roots of 'Middle Eastern' terrorism as a backdrop to a timeless story about one man’s quest for peace. Audiences who see "Beirut" will become interested in some of the history that the film touches on. It's about the idea that one person can make a difference, however small. In a bad situation, you've to suit up and try to make things better. "Beirut" also invites audiences to experience an exotic locale teeming with intrigue. The film creates this smoky, dirty, grimy, beautifully tattered world. In the end, if people walk away with questions about America’s involvement in Beirut in the ’80s, that’s great. The film leads people trying to learn more about this time frame, that’s fantastic. But it’s really more about the sensual experience of the movie and putting the audience into this world, in all it's screwed-up glory. The character’s willingness engages in dialogue stands in stark contrast to the current political climate. Everything’s so polarized now that you can’t say anything for fear of being a traitor to your party or a traitor to your country or a traitor to your religion. It seems like we only have the capacity to see things in black and white, but the world doesn’t exist in that color scheme. If we’re not talking, we’re fighting, and that doesn’t seem to be a very legitimate way to move anything
forward. So honestly, that’s the message people take away from this movie; instead of fighting, maybe talking works a little better.