Jon Hamm looks great, has an amazing smile, and a smooth voice. That trifecta makes him perfect to play Mason Skiles in Beirut. Mason is a deal maker who tries to bring both sides together with happy endings for everyone.
The film opens in 1972 in Beirut, Lebanon. Civil war is brewing and the wounds of Munich are still raw. Mason and his wife live there rubbing elbows with the diplomatic community and enjoying everything the city has to offer (besides the escalating religious tensions). Their home is attacked during a reception, Mason’s wife dies, and he returns to America to do nickel and dime labor negotiations and take a deep dive into alcoholism.
The World Turns Upside Down.. A Second Time
Fast forward ten years. Mason is back in the states when he gets an offer he can’t refuse to return to Lebanon and negotiate the release of an old friend who’s been taken hostage by one of the myriad terrorist groups operating in and around the city.
The movie has enough action sequences woven into the cloak and dagger lifestyle these characters lead. But honestly, this movie is a talker. Not as in we’ll be talking about it on our social media feeds. But as in dialogue heavy.
The history of the region is explained.
Personal relationships are explained.
Why Mason is an alcoholic is explained.
The politics and special interests in play are explained.
We get it, the Lebanon civil war began 30+ years ago, and anyone under 50 in America probably doesn’t remember much about it. So explanation is necessary, so why are we hating on it? We’re not. We’re just pointing out that you need to pay attention every moment.
Who Are You
Yet through all this dialogue, we never get too attached to any of the characters. We’re hoping everyone escapes the bombing, terrorists, and kidnappers. But it’s not gonna rock our world if something happens to them.
The script has a lot of words. A LOT of words. But none of them ever help build a bond between the characters and the audience. Mason’s alcoholism serves first as a red herring (will he be too drunk and miss an opportunity to save someone) and then as a positive trait to throw others off his scent. But it feels contrived, overdone, and a lazy way to give an extra demon to Mason’s id.
Hamm It Up
But the thing is, talking and looking charming is what Jon Hamm does best. And that’s meant in the nicest way. Seriously. Playing a deal maker who relies on his knowledge and charm is the quintessential Hamm role.
He talks us through every moment of the film, and is the only thing that makes the movie worth watching and listening to.
At the end of the film the surviving characters lament that this was a rare case where everyone got what they want. Everyone except the audience. We are left wanting more. More character development. More reason to root for someone to do something. But we don’t get it.
This is a good movie that could have been more. You can definitely wait to see it on home video.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Get a bottle of Whiskey. Serve it straight up and served at Middle East room temperature, just like our hero Mason Skiles has it.