Broken down to its core, “Beirut” tells an intriguing tale of the interconnecting violence taking place in Lebanon from 1972 through the early 1980s. In the process, it leaves you with a better understanding of the nightmare taking place in the Middle East today.
The movie focuses on Jon Hamm’s character known as Mason Skiles, an American diplomat who experiences tragedy in Beirut in 1972. As he and his beloved wife (Leila Bekhti) attempt to help a 13-year-old Palestinian boy named Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg) escape the turmoil taking place in Lebanon, terrorists seize the lad for reasons that become quickly relevant. Mason then flees in agony to the States after holding a dying wife in his arms.
The story jumps to the States 10 years later, where Mason has become a depressed alcoholic who is serving as an arbiter in various civil cases. Closing his day in a bar where he is consuming whiskey, he receives word from the CIA that he is wanted back in Beirut to help negotiate the release of an old friend. While that friend, played by Mark Pellegrino, is being held hostage by an unknown Palestinian group, Mason soon learns why the terrorist group wants him involved in the negotiations.
This film has many strengths principally owing to screenwriter Tony Gilroy, an accomplished writer as demonstrated by his screenplays for the three previous “Bourne” films as well as “Dolores Claiborne” (1995) and “Michael Clayton” (2007).
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is Mason’s interaction with various CIA agents centered in Beirut. While that includes some meaningful performances by Shea Whigham, Dean Norris and Larry Pine, Rosamund Pike stands out as the CIA operative assigned to oversee Skiles on his return. Following up her provocative performance in last year’s unfortunately overlooked “Hostiles,” Pike soon learns that there is more to trust in Mason if you can tolerate his dedication to alcohol.
What makes this film memorable is that the emotional intensity increases with every scene. While Skiles’ efforts involve an interaction with American and Israeli security forces, he is stunned to learn that the young Karim (now played by Idir Chender) has become a leader in the terrorist movement. Seeking a resolution, he is forced to betray the directions of his CIA handlers while trying to save a colleague who may be put to death by a man he used to love as a child. This movie becomes surprisingly unforgettable as it reaches a resolution.
The performance by Hamm will set aside any question you may have of his skill as an actor. While he is still blessed and cursed with his role as Don Draper in the hit TV series “Mad Men”, he demonstrated his talents on the big screen in last year’s wonderful hit “Baby Driver.” From my viewpoint, he is a rare actor who has the ability to hold your attention while playing a character with serious flaws. This tantalizing little film is living proof of that fact.
Finally, if you want proof of Mr. Anderson’s directorial talents, hunt down one of my favorite films, “Happy Accidents” (2000). You won’t be disappointed.
Having lived through the 1960s where I experienced all of the trauma, “Chappaquiddick” was a movie beyond my ability to appreciate. Whatever happened when Sen. Ted Kennedy drove off that bridge resulting in the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne is a story that I don’t care to revisit.
As I have said in other reviews, I graduated from Batesville High School in 1965 and Marian College, now Marian University, in 1969. In the process, I watched the agony of my beloved parents after the death of President John Kennedy in November 1963, only to be engulfed in my own agony with the death of Senator Robert Kennedy in June 1968. With the election of Richard Nixon months after RFK’s death and facing being drafted into a Vietnam War that I passionately opposed, it was hard to care about anything.
And then Ted Kennedy drives off a bridge and it looks like his career is over. This film, directed by John Curran, analyzes this tragic event over the period of a couple weeks, and it was hard to feel for Teddy even with the unimaginable pain his family experienced over a few short years.
Jason Clarke, a wonderful Australian actor, does a very good job playing Kennedy, but it was hard for him to accomplish anything that moved you emotionally.
On the night of the accident, he was drinking with Kopechne (Kate Mara) and others at a party where he ended up alone with her in a car late in the evening. Though the film suggests that there was nothing personal going on between these two, you only needed to look at the reaction of Ted’s wife, Joan (Andria Blackman), when they got into a car after Kopechne’s funeral to come to a different conclusion.
Broken down to its basics, the movie does little more than describe how Sen. Kennedy used a group of professionals that included Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown) and Ted Sorenson (Taylor Nichols) to help smooth over this monstrous event so that Teddy’s political career would survive. Scene after scene involved moments where the most important thing in Kennedy’s entourage’s life was to fix this case and make it go away, and you didn’t leave the theater with a lot of admiration for anyone.
On the other hand, it is important to point out that Kennedy was immensely helped by the fact that Armstrong landed on the moon on the same weekend as the Chappaquiddick accident. As a result, he played second banana in a story where he normally would have been headlines in every paper in the country. Armstrong’s historic statement, “One giant step for mankind,” had great meaning to him.
On a positive note, it is worth noting that Ted Kennedy went on to be a monumental force in the United States Senate, and in the process he was able to earn a great deal of admiration that was all but lost with the death of Kopechne. To his everlasting credit, he was able to earn the respect of even those who felt he was responsible for Kopechne’s death.
One last comment: Bruce Dern makes a short appearance as Joseph Kennedy, Kennedy’s father. He was an invalid and in 24-hour care of a nurse. Nonetheless, he is shown expressing both his anger at his son as well as his support, which pretty much represents my reaction to this day.
Regardless of your feelings about the Kennedys, it is important to remember one thing: the oldest son, Joseph, was killed in combat in World War II. That was followed by JFK and RFK’s deaths at the hands of assassins, and you can only imagine how you would react if that happened to your family. My feelings about the Kennedys are best represented by this old statement from Jesus Christ, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”•
• Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.