Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; R for profanity, some violence and brief nude image; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “The Story behind Beirut” featurette
JON HAMM gets to look even more serious, tormented and alcoholic than Don Draper, his “Mad Men” persona, for his star turn in “Beirut.” In this mediocre political thriller, set in the early 1970s and ’80s, Hamm plays Mason Skiles, an American diplomat assigned to Beirut and known for his exceptional negotiating skills.
Skiles is married to a beautiful Lebanese woman (Leïla Bekhti) and they share their home with Karim, an adolescent local boy whom they believe to be alone in the world. When Skiles learns that Karim has an older brother who is implicated in the Munich bombings, and Karim is called in for interrogation, Skiles tries to help the boy. Then, during a party in Skiles’ home, gunmen barge in firing, take Karim, and a stray bullet leaves Skiles’ wife dead.
Jump to ten years later, and Skiles is back in the States, drowning his lingering grief in alcohol. He has a non-government job as an arbitrator, but one day is asked to return to Beirut by American intelligence workers. Skiles reluctantly agrees to return to the scene of his terrible memories after he’s told his friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino) is being held hostage there. The secret service thinks Skiles, who is fluent in Arabic, is the only person who has the chops to negotiate with the kidnappers for Cal’s release.
To make things even more, shall we say “Hollywood,” the CIA now has a very pretty, albeit no-nonsense, undercover agent in place (Rosamund Pike) to keep an eye on Skiles. The actors, including Shea Whigham (“Boardwalk Empire), Larry Pine, and an almost unrecognizable Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”), do their best with the overwrought dialogue. Nevertheless, “Beirut” is replete with contrived plot clichés compounded by a steady barrage of dramatic musical to remind viewers how they should feel. It takes this predictable espionage thriller to its smug – perhaps “Casablanca”-inspired? –conclusion.
The Universal Blu-ray looks pretty good in the context of low light and minimal contrast, with plenty of bleak, war-ravaged locations and sets, often shot with a jumpy hand-held camera. Detail is good and skin tones true. The DTS-HD soundtrack is also fine, with realistic effects of explosions and gunfire, backed by the above-noted heavy-handed musical cues. Dialogue is clear and comprehensible.
The two puny extras run about four minutes total, and include a brief interview with Pike about her character, as well as the making-of featurette. The director, Brad Anderson (“The Machinist,” “Session 9”) calls “Beirut” a “smart, adult film … an international spy story.” A former CIA agent talks briefly about the civil war in Lebanon and Beirut in the early 1980s, during which time it was hard to know, “Who is the good guy?”
Screenwriter/producer Tony Gilroy (“Bourne Ultimatum”) notes that Tangier, Morocco, was chosen for location shooting because it looks so much like Beirut just prior to the Israeli invasion when it was “particularly explosive.” The movie, says Hamm, “is the kind that doesn’t get made anymore.”
Ah, if only that were true.
— Peggy Earle