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Review: Beirut
by Karen Pecota

Bleecker Street productions brings to the silver screen a fictional narrative based on events that seem highly possible according to historical documents that surrounded the siege of Beirut within the 1982 Lebanon War, as well as, the 1984 kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley.

Long before screenwriter Tony Gilroy gained acclaim for his storytelling he met producer Robert Cort, who happened to be a former CIA analyst. The two had several conversations over geopolitical influences of the day. As they discussed possible narratives for film, Gilroy recalls, "Robert thought a movie about a foreign-service diplomatic negotiator would be fascinating." Gilroy says, "At the time, Beirut was a hot topic because Tom Friedman's book From Beirut to Jerusalem had hit the market."

Gilroy immersed himself in research regarding the kidnapping which led him to discover a wealth of detailed information that surrounded the Lebanese conflict. He explains, "I didn't have any idea the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) was so complicated and stratified and corrupt." Gilroy adds, "I had no idea of the complexity of the Israeli desire to get into Lebanon or the contortions Israel put itself through to justify the invasion of the region." He continues, "I knew about the Reagan White House when George Schultz, Oliver North and Robert McFarland came in, and I knew about the events leading up to the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut. I didn't know the intricate details."

Gilroy uses information found to develop the main part of his story in Beirut, which he completed in 1992. The script didn't receive a green light from studios because Gilroy's fictional portrayal was too accurate. Gilroy notes that in reality the PLO, Israel or the U.S. State Department did not show 'exemplary behavior'.

Actor Jon Hamm was drawn to the straight-shooting protagonist character Mason Skiles in Gilroy's Beirut. Hamm says, "Mason is a communicator rather than a terminator. He's not a guy who solves everything that doesn't really exist in life." He adds, "As a negotiator, Mason's gift is to talk to people not in a backhanded or sneaky way; but, communicates clearly, 'You have something I want and I have something you want. We have to find that place where we both leave something on the table and ideally, each of us gets a little of what we want.' "

Hamm had the good fortune of meeting several career diplomats in his life and listened to their stories. Hamm's deduction, "When people live in a country not their own they need to have tremendous respect for the local culture and local politics to understand what's actually happening on the ground." Adding, "That's what I drew from for the the character of Mason. As a facilitator, he wants both sides to win. He's not there to undermine the other government. There's a great deal of respect and intelligence that goes along with that approach."

Having been an ex-patriot for over eighteen years myself, I could identity with Hamm's perspective. No matter what position one holds, as an ex-patriot, one resides as a guest in the country that is not their own, and must at all cost be respectful of how life is run in order to be successful in the job one is sent to do. Kudos to Hamm's observation. Kudos to Hamm for an amazing performance of Gilroy's character, Mason Skiles. Kudos to director Brad Anderson for creating a relatable thriller that visualizes Gilroy's screenplay to his liking.

Ten years have passed for former American diplomat, Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) since an unpredicted terrorist attack hit a party he and his wife were hosting while living in Beirut. His family and best friends were suddenly taken out of his life. Heartbroken and demoralized Mason reverts to alcohol to cope with his loss. To pay the bills he is a mediator for labor disputes in Boston. 

Mason's expertise as a top negotiator has not gone unnoticed. He is approached by a stranger in a bar handing him a passport, cash and a plane ticket to Beirut. Annoyed at the insinuation that he would jump to the task, he wanted to say no thank you. Knowing his government wouldn't ask unless his skills were needed, even as a last resort, Mason pursued the proposition.

Terrorists kidnapped a CIA agent. Mason's mission is to negotiate a swap for a terrorist leader Abu Rujal (Hicham Ouraqa), believed to be imprisoned by Israeli secret service, in exchange for an American.

Mason secretly meets the kidnappers with the help of a U.S. Embassy-assigned handler Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) and together they discover that there are more players involved. Each having their own agenda. Each determined to get what they want. A more complicated swap than Mason anticipated. Life threatening for all participants.

Confronting unresolved issues himself, Mason is thrust into a war-torn country not knowing who he can trust. For everyone to get what they want, trust is the key to the negotiator's success. Mason must decipher if trust is enough in his new world of negotiations to set one free.