Beirut (aka The Negotiator) movie review: an American man finds absolution in the messy Middle East

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Beirut red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A same-old story of a white man’s angst, set against the “exotic” backdrop of 1980s war-torn Beirut. This brand of Hollywood myopia is tired, uninteresting, and no longer acceptable.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

These days, if you’re gonna appropriate another culture and whitewash whatever story you’re setting there, you sure as hell had better have a downright exceptional story to tell. Beirut is not a downright exceptional story. It is a same-old-shit story of a white man’s pain and angst, fueled primarily by the death of his wife because that’s what wives are mostly for in movies, that wonders whether he can find redemption. This is set against the “exotic” backdrop of 1980s war-torn Beirut, where other outsiders say things like “the monsters have taken over Lebanon” and local flavor is anonymous small brown boys running through the streets brandishing real guns.

Local “flavor” is small boys running through the streets brandishing real guns.
tweet

Jon Hamm’s (Baby Driver) Mason Skiles is a former diplomat from back in the 1970s glory days of Beirut, before it was war-torn, and a professional negotiator who is brought back to the city when one of his former colleagues (Mark Pellegrino: An American Affair) is kidnapped by radical Muslim somebody-or-others. (It’s an invented group, though the film was inspired by real such kidnappings.) He carries a flask, which he regularly drinks from, until his redemption starts to creep in and he pours his liquor down the drain. But oh wait! He thinks of his dead wife (Leïla Bekhti [A Prophet] in the opening sequence, and in flashbacks) and is sad again, and goes back to the bottle. Such grief! In between, he runs around the city defying his handlers (Shea Whigham [Kong: Skull Island], Rosamund Pike [Hostiles], Dean Norris [Secret in Their Eyes]), because he’s the only one with a pulse on the kidnappers and what it will take to save his friend. What a maverick!

“I replaced the booze in Hamm’s flask with dishwashing liquid. Whaddaya bet he’s so permanently sloshed he doesn’t even notice?”
“I replaced the booze in Hamm’s flask with dishwashing liquid. Whaddaya bet he’s so permanently sloshed he doesn’t even notice?”

Lazy, cheap characterization is met by convoluted plotting, but the worst thing about Beirut — from director Brad Anderson (The Call) and writer Tony Gilroy (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) — is that it wants to be about the political realities of the Middle East but cannot be bothered to center a single character who isn’t American, and doesn’t offer the perspective of anyone Lebanese. This myopia is hardly surprising from Hollywood, but it’s really tired and while it may once have been acceptable, it’s utterly uninteresting and no longer seemly.



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Tony Burtois
Tony Burtois
Thu, Apr 19, 2018 4:03am

Spot on review. Not one Lebanese actor, no scenes filmed in Lebanon, lazy, lazy lazy and so painfully cliche.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tony Burtois
Thu, Apr 19, 2018 11:29am

I think it may be just about excusable not to shoot in Beirut: the necessities of the script, the historical period, and the logistics of filmmaking might have made that difficult. But there’s absolutely no reason not to have some significant Lebanese characters played by Lebanese or at least Arab actors.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Apr 23, 2018 10:33pm

I keep forgetting to post a link to this article:

https://nyti.ms/2HqRjKu

Joe Paulson
Joe Paulson
reply to  Danielm80
Tue, Apr 24, 2018 5:06am

I liked “The Insult” though it had certain issues.

But, the simple fact we got a window into another culture in a film overall well crafted on a basic level was worth the viewing.

RogerBW
RogerBW
Mon, Apr 23, 2018 9:23pm

At least he’s not being called back to rescue his kidnapped love interest.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Tue, Apr 24, 2018 12:47pm

No, because she’s already dead. And they guy he has to rescue is connected with her death. So much angst!

Anonymous
Anonymous
Tue, Jul 10, 2018 9:10pm
guy
guy
Sun, Jul 15, 2018 11:38pm

American movies are for American audience and therefore cast American actors with box office presence to get people to see it? Nah uh! What practical difference would it mean to have “Lebanese actors” play parts? None.

It is the sign of a bad review when you pull your own biases and “what you would have done” into it rather than review the movie.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  guy
Mon, Jul 16, 2018 4:00pm

It’s not at all radical to suggest that a movie set in the Middle East ought to feature some Middle Eastern characters.

It’s also not much of a stretch to say that a story about a middle-aged alcoholic is kind of trite, and a group of evil terrorists is not only a cliché but a stereotype.

That doesn’t mean that a derivative movie with a B-list star won’t be profitable. Lots of mediocre films make lots of money. But critics can still say that the films are mediocre. You may not object to lazy screenwriting, but plenty of other people do. Also, American films are no longer made just for an American audience, and haven’t been for quite a while. If audiences—no matter what country they live in—don’t demand better than lowest common denominator storytelling, that’s all we’re likely to get.

guy
guy
reply to  Danielm80
Mon, Jul 16, 2018 4:33pm

Um, no. SOME movies are no longer just made for American audiences, true. The big budget FX spectaculars, sure, they are international. But comedies and indie dramas like this? The are made for American and western audiences. Comedy is very hard to translate into other cultures. (nothing but the broadest of slapstick translate). Also, films like this one (small dramas) also do not translate well.

I will cede it is not a “radical” argument, but it is unnecessary. No one really cares, it does not effect the picture at all. And I do not think these kind of dramas ever go out of style. If you do not like them, that is your choice. But just say you do not like them, do not demand some political nonsense that no one cares about as a reason not to like it.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  guy
Mon, Jul 16, 2018 7:03pm

Wow.

2015 Bingo card: B1 and arguably B4, G5, and O5.

2017 Bingo card: B1, I1, G2, I3, arguably G5 and definitely N3.

I await your O5.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  guy
Tue, Jul 17, 2018 3:48pm

Not all Americans are so myopic, nor so insular, nor so uninterested in the world outside America’s borders.

guy
guy
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Jul 17, 2018 7:16pm

yawn

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  guy
Tue, Jul 17, 2018 10:20pm

Yes, we got you the first time. Enjoy your proud ignorance.