Handsome production with a slightly underwhelming narrative.
Beirut (2018): 7 out of 10: A washed-up professional negotiator (Jon Hamm) returns to Beirut to rescue a former friend whom he blames for the destruction of his family.
The Good: Well, they certainly captured the look and feel of early eighties Beirut. This is a ridiculously handsome production with nary a misstep in production design. The film decorates Tangier with enough extras and burnt-out tanks to give the perfect representation. A true spectacle.
Everyone is solid in his or her roles as well. John Hamm does a fine job considering the issues with his character (see below) and Rosamund Pike shows once again why serious filmmakers put her in their movies.
The overall plot of forgiveness and closure with the past is well thought out. For the first half of the movie, this is a very tight drama told in a very convincing manner.
The Bad: Tony Gilroy’s script gives a great opening and floor show but simply cannot stick the landing. The latter third of the film simply seems rushed. Where character development should be paying off and emotions taking the foreground, we have a deus ex machina piling upon a deus ex machina. Last-minute revelations undermine the carefully crafted plot while characters pull the negotiation version of a superweapon from thin air to fill obvious plot holes. The movie wants a happy ending the story (and location) does not deserve.
In addition, we have a problem with Jon Hamm’s character. We are told he is a self-destructive alcoholic and an expert negotiator. We are told this repeatedly. We are not really shown this, however. While Hamm’s character is certainly gregarious, at no time in the movie does he seem to do a good job negotiating. Considering the cards he is holding, by any honest measurement he is awful at his job.
Even stranger Gilroy’s script plays that old convention drunk guy sobers up for the big task. He has set back and oh no he is going for the bottle again. Watch the audience shriek in horror as they yell at the screen “No Don’t do it” as he pours another whiskey. In reality, self-destructive alcoholics are not triggered to drink when things go badly. They are triggered to drink when things go well. The whole will he drink thing seems more ham-fisted audience manipulation than actual actions by the character.
The Ugly: The film ends with an unnecessary credit clip about the actual US involvement in Beirut in the early eighties. In a few minutes, the clips downplay a real tragedy (The marine barracks bombing in 1983 that killed 241 U.S. and 58 French peacekeepers), skip the incident the movie is obviously based on (The kidnapping and murder of CIA station chief William Francis Buckley in 1985), and undercuts the artistry that came before it and insults the audience watching.
In conclusion: Despite the ending, and some issues with the focus on plot over character, I enjoyed this movie. I cannot overemphasize how handsome a production this is. The film really takes you a different time and place. As a setting in the early eighties, Beirut is fantastic. There is a great fall of civilization/ Mad Max vibe that permeates every scene. The film does a nice job during quiet moments to capture the horrible destruction and the human nature of those still occupying the city going about their daily lives. There are wonderful stories that can be told in such chaos. This story was just a little less wonderful than it needed to be.