War-torn Lebanon in the early 1980s sets the scene for “Beirut,” the talky espionage thriller from director Brad Anderson (“Transsiberian,” “The Machinist”) and writer Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Identity,” “Michael Clayton” ). The film is an intelligent and gripping political tale that sometimes feels far too familiar yet remains fully engrossing from beginning to end.
Jon Hamm plays Mason Skiles, an accomplished U.S. diplomat who leaves Beirut in the 1970s after a tragic accident. A decade later, Mason is summoned back to Lebanon by the CIA to aid in a rescue mission after a high ranking agent (and one who is full of dark secrets) is taken hostage. Mason is assigned a field agent “skirt” (Rosamund Pike) to keep him alive and ensure his objective is a success.
Nothing is what it seems as the agents and suits distract and outplay each other in a cat and mouse game of wits. A growing number of unanswered questions soon makes it clear that greater conspiracies and coverups may be in play.
The film’s biggest strength is its top shelf screenplay and tight plot; there isn’t much fat that pads Gilroy’s script. It’s a smartly written, taut tale of international intrigue that becomes immensely satisfying when paired with Anderson’s effortless direction and all-around competent performances from the cast (including supporting actors Dean Norris, Mark Pellegrino, and Shea Whigham).
What’s lacking is a frank discussion of historical accuracy and fully developed, complex characters. It’s also a little too dry and long-winded at times with an abundance of lengthy expository monologues.
“Beirut” feels like a throwback to old school political thrillers of the past and delivers little fresh or trendy by way of its story line. Still, this is a smart and compelling film that will satisfy finicky art house audiences.