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Movie Night – ‘Beirut’ is thriller that keeps you guessing

By Bradley Griffith

It’s amazing how many movies are released each year with little to no advertising and no notice of the release outside of the film industry. Many of these films are released straight to video and most of them are so bad they should never have been made in the first place. I saw no advertising for “Beirut,” and it certainly didn’t have any type of marketing campaign. The movie was only released in limited theaters. Despite all that, I am happy to say that “Beirut” bucks the well-established trend and is actually a good movie.

Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) is a United States diplomat living in Beirut, Lebanon in 1972. Skiles is good at his job and loves entertaining representatives from other countries and organizations. He also loves living in Beirut with his wife, Nadia (Leila Bekhti). Together they have begun caring for an orphaned 13-year-old Lebanese boy named Karim (Ider Chender). They want to adopt the boy and raise him as their own.

During one of the many parties Mason and Nadia host at their home for foreign dignitaries, Mason is approached by his best friend, Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino). In addition to being Mason’s best friend, Cal also works for the CIA. He informs Mason that there are several high ranking United States officials who want to speak with him outside his home immediately. They want to question someone at the party. Before a resolution can be reached a gunfight breaks out in the party that results in Nadia’s death.

Ten years later Mason is an arbitrator in the United States. He mostly mediates local labor disputes. He’s also an alcoholic. He has never gotten over the death of his wife and the loss of the life he loved. Mason is convinced to return to Beirut at the thinly-veiled request of the United States government. His cover is as a visiting professor at American University.

In reality, Cal, who remained in Beirut, has been abducted by a terrorist organization. The terrorists specifically asked for Mason Skiles to broker the deal to get Cal back. After working for the CIA for many years Cal has many secrets that can’t ever see the light of day. Mason must work with local CIA field agent Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) to get Cal back.

I was pleasantly surprised by “Beirut.” The synopsis of the movie that I read sounded intriguing, but with no fanfare as it hit theaters there was cause for concern that it would be a dud. Instead, “Beirut” is a complex adult thriller that keeps you guessing about what or who lurks around every corner. 

Beirut, especially in 1982, is a complicated place with varying loyalties among the many factions in the city. A movie about the city needed to reflect not only the war-torn scenery, but also the shifting allegiances from friend and foe. The movie captured what it must have been like to operate in Beirut in 1982. Mason is pulled in several different directions and doesn’t know who he should trust. All he knows is that he wants to get Cal back in one piece.

Despite the small budget and nonexistent advertising, “Beirut” sports an impressive cast. Jon Hamm is a well-known actor who is good as a washed-up alcoholic who can somehow pull it together when he is needed most. Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl” fame provides a strong supporting character. One of the greatly underrated actors of our time, Dean Norris, plays Donald Gaines, a State Department official, perfectly. It’s a very well-rounded and impressive cast.

“Beirut” is a good thriller with a well-written plot that is engaging and pulls you into the murky world of Beirut of the 1980s. It deserves a wider release and some actual marketing.

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Grade: B+

Rated R for language, some violence, and a brief nude image.