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‘Beirut’ Review: Jon Hamm Stars in Standard-Issue Spy Thriller From Resurrected Tony Gilroy Script — Sundance 2018
Perhaps it’s time that Jon Hamm finally got his own action franchise, one that’s lighter on actual stunts than “Taken” and with a little less brain than a John Le Carre thriller. With that in mind, Brad Anderson’s “Beirut” just might fit the bill as an origin story.
It opens in 1972, when diplomat-turned-sorta-spy Mason Skiles (Hamm) is hosting a rollicking house party with his lovely wife; they’re aided by their orphaned Lebanese charge Karim, who is happily delivering finger foods to government VIPs. And then, everything goes topside when his best pal Cal (Mark Pellegrino) arrives at the party with frantic news: Karim isn’t an orphan, and in fact has a big brother with major ties to terrorism.
This accidental crisis doesn’t seem unlikely; Mason is a bit of a smoothie, a negotiator who likes talking his way out of a situation and happens to be blessed with the ability to really jaw it up. However, this massive error in judgment means his time in the diplomacy game is over, as is every shred of his personal life.
A decade later, he’s a drunk and a small-time negotiator tasked with handling minor labor disputes who never, ever wants to return to Beirut. This is, of course, when a man appears alongside Mason in a bar, offering a fat envelope stuffed with cash, a passport, and a first-class ticket to Beirut. Something has happened to a friend, something bad, and only Mason can fix it.
Based on a screenplay Tony Gilroy first wrote nearly three decades ago — the screenwriter intended it as his follow-up to sports romance “The Cutting Edge,” (and yes, Tony Gilroy did write “The Cutting Edge”) — “Beirut” was initially put on ice because it was too topical, and then it became too passé. Eventually unearthed by producer Mike Weber, who was rightly excited to find an old Tony Gilroy script that includes the introduction of a brand-new spy universe, it’s the kind of throwback thriller that Hollywood doesn’t often make these days.
And, maybe they shouldn’t. Anderson (“The Machinist”) matches Mason with an ace supporting cast, including Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, and Shea Whigham, all of whom ultimately prove to be underserved in a narrative that values twists and turns over actual growth. (There’s even one scene late in the film that seems to exist solely to drive home the point that everyone is putting on a front, though it’s so underbaked that it makes no sense.)
As Mason slips deeper into a complicated situation he has zero business participating in — beyond the fact that the terrorists at the heart of the situation explicitly asked for him, and no one found that weird in the slightest – the film borders on parody. Hamm is increasingly addled, morose, and haunted by what happened to him a decade earlier. If he’s not slipping off to chat with the terrorists or hitting the hotel bar, Mason is doing little else to help his (and his kidnapped friend’s) cause. Perhaps the U.S. government should have employed a fixer actually able to fix things?
The stakes in “Beirut” are high (a high-ranking official has been kidnapped, and everyone seems convinced that he’s going to spill all kinds of secrets), but Hamm lopes through the process without much conviction. A handful of dramatic scenes do allow the actor to show off his chops, but much of “Beirut” simply requires him to look sweaty and pissed off. The film shot during a Morocco summer, so that wasn’t a huge ask.
Anderson does add some style to the film, doing wonders with an indie-sized budget for a film that requires a specific period setting. “Beirut” renders its location as a gritty, dirty, complex twist of rubble and blown-out buildings, and it’s wholly understandable that no one ever feels fully safe there. It’s that kind of inherent tension that “Beirut” could stand to mine, as the back half of the film speeds toward a conclusion that’s both unearned and inevitable. Still, it sets up an ending, that could spawn further Mason Stiles adventures, presumably new thrillers where he lucks into hefty drinks and even heftier missions.
“Beirut” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Bleecker Street will open the film on April 13.
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When it comes to Oscar nominations, what’s often most compelling are the names that don’t make the cut. This morning’s list includes a number of notable exclusions, many of whom could hang their rejection on the growing strength of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The past few months saw dozens of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct allegations rock Hollywood; inevitably, the fallout led straight to the Academy Awards.
After a strong showing in the early part of the awards race, James Franco’s lauded “The Disaster Artist” faces a near-total shutout; its sole nomination went to one of the few elements that Franco himself was not involved in, a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.
That alone was a surprise, as Franco earned both a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award for his performance as Tommy Wiseau, director of his infamously bad film “The Room.” However, the Los Angeles Times published a January 11 report detailing allegations of Franco’s sexually inappropriate and exploitative behavior — the day before the deadline for Academy members’ nomination ballots.
Also missing from the nominees is Woody Allen’s latest, “Wonder Wheel.” After premiering at the New York Film Festival, the period drama earned accolades for star Kate Winslet, though that never translated to much in the way of nominations. Still, Winslet was very much on the circuit, where she repeatedly defended the filmmaker in interviews.
Though claims against Allen from his daughter Dylan Farrow are long-standing, the rise of #MeToo and #TimesUp, along with Farrow’s own visibility over the past few months — including a new op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that called out talents that continue to work with Allen, and her bombshell CBS This Morning interview — have been impossible to ignore.
Over the past few weeks, a number of Allen’s previous performers, including Best Actor nominee Timothee Chalamet and Best Director nominee Greta Gerwig, announced that they won’t work with him again. Allen’s last Academy Award nomination was in 2014 for the screenplay of the Cate Blanchett-starring “Blue Jasmine.”
Despite early buzz about his work in Noah Baumbach’s Cannes premiere “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” Dustin Hoffman’s campaign for his role in the dramedy never quite caught fire. That could be tied to the potentially diminished Oscar chances of a Netflix film, but a slew of allegations against the actor grew throughout the awards season, including harassment and misconduct allegations that involve former co-stars and minor girls.
Giles Keyte, ©2017 ALL THE MONEY US, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The production most impacted by allegations is Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” which notably excised actor Kevin Spacey, currently accused of multiple acts of sexual assault and harassment. It picked up one nomination for supporting actor Christopher Plummer, who took over the role during a rush to cut Spacey from the film entirely. Scott didn’t land a nod in the directing category, though he did pick up a directing nomination at the Golden Globes, which was the first voting body to issue nominations after seeing a cut of the finished film.
Yet, this year’s Oscars did nominate at least two men accused of sexual misconduct, including former basketball star Kobe Bryant as writer, star, and executive producer of animated short film “Dear Basketball.” A 19-year-old hotel employee accused Bryant of sexual assault in 2003; he later admitted to a sexual encounter, claiming it was consensual. His accuser filed a sexual assault complaint against the former Los Angeles Laker, though the case was ultimately dropped and was settled out of court.
Gary Oldman, considered the Best Actor frontrunner for his role as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” has long been plagued by his own allegations. In 2001, the actor’s wife Donya Fiorentino alleged that the actor beat her with a telephone in front of their two young children. Fiorentino filed papers with the Los Angeles Superior Court, in which she accused the actor of abuse, along with mentions of alcohol, drug, and prostitute binges. Allegations were investigated by the police, which filed no charges. They divorced later that year, with Oldman granted sole legal and physical custody of their children.
Elsewhere in the race, films that speak to other aspects of #MeToo and #TimesUp – including inclusion, diversity behind the camera, and the need for more female talents – also emerged victorious, with Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” picking up five nominations, including a rare Best Director for Gerwig (only the fifth woman to ever be nominated in the category) and Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” earning four nominations. Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” however, was left out in all categories.
Perhaps surging contender “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” will most keenly speak to the moment. The revenge drama, centered on a mother’s fight for justice for her raped and murdered daughter, has steadily picked up speed, especially for Best Actress nominee Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor Sam Rockwell. It’s a timely story, to be sure, and its awards odds speak to perhaps the most fervent desire of survivors everywhere: to come out on top.
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