Beirut, written by Tony Gilroy
Jon Hamm was brilliant in Mad Men; indeed, he has had the biggest contribution and is in large part responsible for making the series a classic, legendary work, referenced in The Economist and part of the establishment at this point.
Nonetheless, in spite of the two Golden Globes and four other Golden Globe, plus Emmy and other awards wins and nominations for the aforementioned series, where he has created a memorable character, Don Draper, Jon Hamm has been less fortunate in selecting his material…or he is outstanding, magnificent as an advertising executive, but less glamorous in other capacities.
In Beirut, Jon Hamm is good, but not overwhelming as Mason Skiles, a man who is facing the abyss early on, suffers the trauma of the death of his beloved wife, while he was serving as a diplomat in the capital of Lebanon.
Mason Skiles is about to take a Palestinian boy, Karim, to America, sponsoring him and applying for the proper documentation, when at a party, a friend working for the CIA, Cal, comes to the event and is very upset, worried and wants to talk to the young Palestinian.
He reveals that Karim is the brother of the man responsible for the Munich terrorist attack, during the Olympics, when Israeli athletes have been kidnapped and then killed by vicious Palestinian killers.
Therefore, the CIA, Mossad and surely other intelligence agencies are interested in the thereabouts of the ring leader, his capture and eventual demise, which might be brought closer if his brother is interrogated and may reveal some information on this.
Mason talks to his friend, he walks outside to the other agents and their leadership, trying to make a case for his protégé, stating that this is just a boy that they took from the street, he has no one and cannot be the brother of the monster.
As they dispute over what the next step should be, what superior could be contacted, the papers for sponsorship that are ready, but while they argue, an attack is under way and the results are gruesome, the wife of the hero dies in this gun battle and in the next scenes, we see the protagonist negotiating in America.
He is no longer facing weapons, even if the disputes between the labor unions and management seem quite vicious and Mason is now a negotiator that receives a call and is summoned to…Beirut where his skills have been demanded, even if he is now a heavy drinker…an alcoholic in fact.
The hero refuses this invitation, he is not so much impressed with the money offered, the plane ticket, the first class reservation, but as we expect from the plot, although reluctantly, he lands in the capital of Lebanon, where at that time, violence was not just frequent, but part of everyday life.
Right at the airport, there is shooting, then he meets with Sandy Crowder aka Rosamund Pike – in a chauvinist world – which has changed so much in 2018 – her comrades say she is the skirt that a traveler wants to see after a long journey.
The action will get complicated quite soon, but although interesting at times, there is a feeling of déjà vu and a lack of originality, even if the web of the plot is complex, some of the good people turn out to be self-interested and quite villainous.
Karim is a grown man now, called Karim Abou Rajal, and in one of his speeches, he says that he had been an innocent boy before the night at the party, but he is now a leader of a fighting outfit – they would call themselves “freedom fighters”, while most of the world would recognize them as terrorists.
Karim has called for Mason Skiles to negotiate a change, for he has in custody Cal, one of the most important CIA operators, and who has the list of all the players in the Middle East and who is paramount for all the parties involved in the conflict and whose life would be traded.
In exchange for the kidnapped CIA agent, Abou Rajal wants to have his brother, who had disappeared a few days ago and is supposed to be in the custody of the Israelis, who equate his name with Munich and want him badly, probably dead or alive.
The hero wants to talk to the Israelis, who play a poker game, interested in what brings the Americans to them and why they want to know about the terrorist, without saying definitely if they have him – in fact, the PLO has this rogue player, keen as they are to avoid an invasion of Lebanon by the Israeli forces.
Time is running out, with a final deadline of only a few hours, the hero has to press hard on a Palestinian minister, threatening he would kill his mistress, but placing on the table the carrot of a huge reward, if he brings the valuable prisoner in one hour.
Mason gets to see Cal, for a couple of minutes and this is how he learns about the PLO as the kidnappers and the fact that Sandy is to be trusted and not the other CIA agents, they steal a few million from the agency – or they just take them to obtain the release of the important asset for all those involved.
Without going into details, the action is watchable, it can be gripping, although we have been here before, with the slow moving van, the passing minutes and the impression that it can all go wrong and the villains might shoot all those in the other, good camp.
They are after all heartless, ruthless and monstrous.
There is proof in one of the first negotiating meetings, as the American side establishes contact with the kidnappers, the one who talks to them rambles about the children they killed, the Zionists and their air raids on innocent people, armed with weapons provided by the American beats and then, suddenly…this speaker for the free Arab World, for the cause of the innocent oppressed Palestinians is killed by his own side.
To be more precise, Karim Abou Rajal shoots his comrade in the head, from a few centimeters distance, in what would be transformed in a cruel joke, if this was a comedy show…the preacher was rambling so much that his own side has had enough.