MOVIE BUFF-ET: Hamm delivers star power in suspenseful ‘Beirut’

Bleecker Street

If you feel like sitting at the adult table this weekend at the movie theater but still want a bit of action with your main course, consider director Brad Anderson’s latest film “Beirut,” starring Jon Hamm.

Anderson delivers a taut, gritty espionage thriller that won’t insult your intelligence while delivering all the goods you’d expect in a larger-budgeted film.

However, the reason to see the movie is Hamm, who might have just sweated and brooded his way to film stardom with his performance as Mason Skiles, a former U.S. diplomat who is drinking himself to death while working as a union negotiator after a tragedy in Beirut forced him out of the diplomatic service.

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Skiles is drafted back into service for his country in 1982, a decade after the tragedy, during the Lebanese Civil War. Terrorists kidnapped C.I.A agent Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), and for some reason the terrorists requested Skiles to play the middle man for an exchange for the notorious terrorist the Israelis have captured.

Rosamund Pike plays operative Sandy Crowder, the fidgety agent who volunteers to babysit Skiles when he’s not negotiating. There is a reason for her anxiety that isn’t immediately obvious. Crowder and Skiles clash at first, but they grow to understand and rely on each other rather quickly.

The negotiations twist and turn showing the self-interest and duplicity of the Israelis, the PLO, and the Americans. The U.S. operatives in Beirut are more worried about safeguarding U.S. intelligence than actually seeing their operative freed.

The supporting cast is rock solid with Shea Whigham, Dean Norris, and Jonny Coyne as sleazy government types, but Hamm, best known for his TV role of Don Draper on “Mad Men, owns the movie in what hopefully will be a star-making role for him like 1998’s “Out of Sight” was for George Clooney, who also started on TV.

There’s something about Hamm that’s just undeniably watchable as a talented man, mired in booze, guilt and grief. The seemingly chance opportunity for him to return to diplomatic service is a life line that his character wasn’t exactly looking for but once he takes hold of it, it’s intriguing to watch Hamm’s character pull his head above water.

The film’s trailer and other marketing has been criticized for glossing over finer points of the Lebanese Civil War, and that’s accurate, but then again the film is a piece of entertainment and not a history lesson. The story is about a man pulling himself out of the mire with the backdrop being Beirut.

However, the film does an excellent job of conveying the death, destruction, and consequences of a modern civil war played out in an urban landscape.

Scripted and produced by Tony Gilroy, who worked on the Bourne franchise, the film is more like “Argo” than the films that lifted Matt Damon to stardom. Hamm’s Skiles isn’t a super-hero-like agent like Damon’s Bourne. He’s just a smart guy trying to do right thing and not killed while doing it.

(R) 1 hr. 49 min.
Grade: B