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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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.
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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

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Tony Burtois

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

  • 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.

  • RogerBW

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

  • Danielm80

    I keep forgetting to post a link to this article:

    https://nyti.ms/2HqRjKu

  • Joe Paulson

    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.

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

  • F.P.

    It is a classical stereo type of Arabs, Moslems and Palestinians. It is a west of time to watch. It’s an insult to everyone who knows anything of the conflict in Middle East. It has no connection to the political reality of the Middle East and the conflict with Israel and its blind partner the US. It’s very disappointing to see Hollywood still producing this rubbish in the 21st century. Shame!

  • guy

    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

    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

    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

    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.

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

  • guy

    yawn

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

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