THE NE­GO­TIA­TOR

★★★

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS -

A Jon Hamm thriller, not to be con­fused with the Sa­muel L. Jack­son thriller. That had no Hamm, just cheese.

OUT 10 AU­GUST CERT 15 / 107 MINS

DI­REC­TOR Brad An­der­son

CAST Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Nor­ris, Larry Pine, Shea Whigham

PLOT Af­ter a Beirut cock­tail re­cep­tion ends in tragedy in 1972, di­plo­mat Ma­son Sk­iles (Hamm) leaves the Mid­dle East be­hind. A decade later, he’s pulled back into the fray to solve a kid­nap­ping cri­sis.

IN DI­REC­TOR BRAD An­der­son’s most fa­mous film, 2004’s The Ma­chin­ist,

a mega-gaunt Chris­tian Bale plays a man who hasn’t slept for months. Jon Hamm hasn’t sim­i­larly trans­formed his body for An­der­son’s lat­est, The Ne­go­tia­tor

(re­leased un­der the bet­ter ti­tle Beirut

in the US), but he too looks like he’s dy­ing to spend some qual­ity time with a pil­low. Play­ing Ma­son Sk­iles, an ace Amer­i­can di­plo­mat who’s been crushed by a per­sonal tragedy, the Mad Men

star has been gifted his best big-screen lead­ing-man role to date (which is ac­tu­ally not say­ing that much) and is ut­terly con­vinc­ing as a hol­lowed­out sad-sack drown­ing in grief and bour­bon — says a gov­ern­ment wonk to her col­league about Sk­iles at one point: “They had to pour him onto the plane.”

An in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter, then, and a script with some smart di­a­logue by Tony Gilroy, but the film it­self is not quite so com­pelling. Striv­ing to be a more adult ver­sion of the Bourne films — the fourth of which Gilroy di­rected, writ­ing three more — it’s a jit­tery tale of spy­craft that takes us on a tour of war-torn Beirut in 1982, but it’s still overly fa­mil­iar stuff. Af­ter a pro­logue set ten years ear­lier, show­ing hap­pier days for Sk­iles as a schmoozy em­bassy host, we are yanked into the fu­ture to find him re­luc­tantly drawn back from Amer­ica for one last job. Once in Le­banon, he must con­tend with var­i­ous fac­tions — non­trust­wor­thy US spooks, the Is­raelis, the Pales­tini­ans — while team­ing up with a CIA op­er­a­tive (an un­der­utilised Rosamund Pike) who sees her­self as more of a babysit­ter. There are dou­ble-crosses, tense jour­neys through check­points, and clam­ber­ings through rub­ble, but while it’s re­fresh­ing to see a thriller that doesn’t feel the need to chuck in a car chase or mar­tial-arts bat­tle ev­ery 20 min­utes, the story feels too slight and murky to ever truly grip.

It’s a shame, be­cause all the in­gre­di­ents were here for a su­pe­rior movie: a fas­ci­nat­ing time and place (the story is set shortly be­fore the Is­raeli De­fense Forces swept through south­ern Le­banon), a ca­pa­ble di­rec­tor and a crack­ing cast (Break­ing Bad’s

Dean Nor­ris ap­pears — with hair! — as a State De­part­ment of­fi­cial, mak­ing this the se­cond time he’s starred in a film called The Ne­go­tia­tor). As it is, it’s a fine, old-school tale of in­trigue, al­beit one that fails to re­ally flesh out ei­ther the na­tives of Beirut or the Amer­i­can in­trud­ers. As strong as Hamm is as Sk­iles, and de­spite hints of a fas­ci­nat­ing back­story, it’s un­likely to be­come a Bourne-style se­ries. NICK DE SEMLYEN

VER­DICT Ku­dos to An­der­son and Gilroy for mak­ing a low-ac­tion, di­a­logue­heavy geopo­lit­i­cal thriller in this day and age. But aside from fi­nally giv­ing its star some strong ma­te­rial to work with, it doesn’t live up to its prom­ise.

Don had lost his touch.

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