The Negotiator

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Rosamund Pike, Jon Hamm, Dean Norris in The Negotiator, which will have its UK premiere in Edinburgh
"The plotting, though not without cliche, retains a satisfyingly robust quality - dense enough to keep you intrigued without becoming overwrought." | Photo: Sife Eddine El Amine

If you get a feeling of retro charm from watching the Tony Gilroy-penned Beirut, it should come as no surprise as he wrote it way back in 1991. The sense of political thriller nostalgia is further enhanced by the fact that the action takes place in 1982, with flashbacks to a decade before.

Jon Hamm sinks his teeth into the role of troubled former diplomat Mason Skiles, whose chief occupation now is working as a mediator between unions and management while hitting the bottle in his off hours. In a tight set-up, we learn that back in the Seventies he was posted in the titular Lebanese capital, living with his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) and caring for orphaned teen Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), little realising that the youngster's brother Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa) is a Palestinian whose CV majors in terror attacks. Tragedy is inevitable, not least because all this is set against the backdrop of a cocktail party, which hardly ever end well at the movies.

Copy picture

Back - or rather, forward - in '82, Skiles finds himself being sucked into a 'one last job' situation, as a CIA agent buddy of his Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino) has been kidnapped and the hostage-taker in chief has specifically requested Skiles do the negotiating. It comes as little surprise that this is no other than Karim (Idir Chender), all grown up and with a plan to broker the freedom of his now even more notorious brother.

From here on, the John Le Carre-style political machinations start to thicken between the Israelis, the CIA, the kidnappers, the Israelis and the PLO as Skiles does his best to stay one step ahead with the help of his CIA handler Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike). If you're looking for a real assessment of the history of Lebanon, this is not the film for you, although the backdrops (mostly Moroccan) give a strong sense of place, stereotypes abound and its intrigue could have been dropped against any number of war-torn situations, given that the plotting relies less on specific Lebanese politics than rather more fundamental Machiavellian ideas.

Treated purely as a suspense thriller, however, Beirut delivers. The plotting, though not without cliche, retains a satisfyinlg robust quality - dense enough to keep you intrigued without becoming overwrought. And if Brad Anderson's direction also dabbles in the over-familiar, not least a yellowy half light that seems to be the go-to palette for Hollywood takes on the Middle East, he keeps the pace moving without sacrificing the plot's complexity. While lesser actors might get lost in the shuffle, Pike's sharp-witted and enigmatic Crowder proves the perfect foil for Hamm's casual world weariness. This may not be breaking new ground but it treads over the familiar with a level of intelligence often missing from recent thrillers.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2018
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A US diplomat flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.


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