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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

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

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.

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.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other releases.

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red light 2 stars

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Beirut (aka The Negotiator) (2018) | directed by Brad Anderson
US/Can release: Apr 11 2018
UK/Ire release: Aug 10 2018 (VOD same day)

MPAA: rated R for language, some violence and a brief nude image
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, violence)

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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