Sydney Film Festival Review: Beirut (USA, 2018) is an absorbing thriller that doesn’t break convention

Aided by a sense of retro charm and bathed in a yellowy hue that appears to be the go-to filter for Hollywood’s take on anything Middle East, Brad Anderson‘s Beirut is an absorbing thriller that doesn’t break convention, but manages a certain robustness that keeps it sailing along with intrigue.

Opening in 1972, the titular Lebanese city serves as the backdrop to a cocktail party (those usually never end well in these type of genre entries) hosted by Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a diplomat, and his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti).  Tragedy is inevitable when it comes to knowledge that Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), the young orphan they have taken under their wing, is a wanted figure of sorts due to his older brother, Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), having earned notoriety as terrorist behind a series of brutal attacks.

Hitting the bottle hard between his new job responsibilities as a mediator between unions and management, Mason finds himself in a “one last job” type set-up 10 years on when an old CIA buddy of his, Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), is taken hostage, and the negotiator has specifically asked for Mason’s involvement.  There’s little surprise in the negotiator’s identity being revealed as a grown Karim (Idir Chender), who is bargaining with Mason and Cal in his bid to parley the freedom of his now even more infamous brother.

Adopting a temperament that would feel organic within the compounds of a John le Carre novel, Beirut moves steadily along as Mason and his CIA handler, Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), do their best to stay one step ahead of the wheels kinetically in motion between the Israelis and the CIA.  The plot, though not without its cliches, proves investing enough to keep interest high, without becoming overly intricate to the point of complication.  And on its own merits as a suspense thriller, Beirut is satisfactory as it refuses to pander to lesser audiences with unnecessary exposition and pointless action sequences, instead maintaining its intelligence without coming off smarter than it intends to.

There’s no in-depth assessment on Lebanon’s history, so if you were hoping for something of that challenging nature this film will disappoint, but Beirut overcomes any geographical stereotypes with astuteness, allowing the casual charisma of Hamm and the enigmatic Pike to lift proceedings when it starts to feel a little too familiar.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Beirut is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival.  Head HERE for tickets and more details.