Sus­pense, po­lit­i­cal in­trigue pay off in sat­is­fy­ing story

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - TV MOVIES - By Den­nis Har­vey

Ex­pertly di­rected by Brad An­der­son, and star­ring Jon Hamm in top form, this com­plex but co­gent tale of an anx­ious fic­tional hostage sit­u­a­tion in 1982 Le­banon is a sat­is­fy­ing sus­penser that eas­ily rates as one of Sun­dance 2018’s most purely en­ter­tain­ing ti­tles.

In 1972, Ma­son Sk­iles (Jon Hamm) is a U.S. diplo­mat liv­ing the good life in Beirut with his wife Na­dia (Leila Bekhti). They have no chil­dren of their own, as yet, but treat 13-year-old or­phan refugee Karim (Yoav Sa­dian Rosen­berg) as “part of the fam­ily.” Dur­ing a posh cock­tail party, how­ever, un­in­vited guests bring un­wel­come news: Not quite so alone in the world as he’d pre­tended, lit­tle Karim has an older brother, and he’s no less than Abu Ra­jal (Hicham Ou­raqa), a no­to­ri­ous Pales­tinian ter­ror­ist linked to the recent Sum­mer Olympics massacre in Mu­nich as well as other at­tacks.

Ma­son is trying to pre­vent the boy be­ing dragged off for in­ter­ro­ga­tion by Mos­sad agents when the party is scat­tered by gun­fire: The elu­sive brother has turned up to nab his sib­ling be­fore the Is­raelis do. An en­su­ing skir­mish has tragic con­se­quences for Ma­son, whom we next see 10 years later work­ing as a la­bor-dis­pute me­di­a­tor in Bos­ton, com­pletely cut off from his high-fly­ing past. But that past sur­faces un­ex­pect­edly when a dis­tant ac­quain­tance finds him drink­ing (as usual) in a bar. He’s of­fered thou­sands to im­me­di­ately get on a flight to Beirut — the place he never wanted to see again — os­ten­si­bly in or­der to lec­ture at a univer­sity. MPAA rat­ing:

RRun­ning time: 1:49 Opened: Wed­nes­day He only con­sents be­cause it’s clear the real rea­son is some mat­ter of press­ing im­por­tance, and “the Agency” won’t take no for an an­swer.

He ar­rives well-lu­bri­cated to find the city he loved now in ru­ins af­ter years of civil war. His des­ig­nated min­der, cul­tural at­tache Sandy Crow­der (Pike), im­me­di­ately turns him over to a trio of CIA, em­bassy, and State De­part­ment of­fi­cials (played by Dean Nor­ris, Shea Whigham, and Larry Pine) who re­veal they’re deal­ing with a hostage sit­u­a­tion: CIA agent Cal Ri­ley (Mark Pel­le­grino), the one­time best friend Ma­son hasn’t spo­ken to in a decade, has been kid­napped.

Why the perps specif­i­cally re­quested Sk­iles as ne­go­tia­tor soon be­comes clear. Their leader is a now-grown Karim (Idir Chen­der), who trusts his for­mer bene­fac­tor can bro­ker an ex­change for the re­lease of the brother he be­lieves is in se­cret Is­raeli cus­tody, for what’s by now a very long list of proPales­tinian ter­ror­is­tic acts. But the Is­raelis (repped by Alan About­boul’s mil­i­tary bull­dog) claim they don’t have him, and prob­a­bly wouldn’t give him up if they did. On the other side, the lo­cal PLO min­is­ter (Ahmed Said Arie) has his own per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal hid­den agendas — as do even the Yanks present, with their com­pet­ing depart­men­tal pri­or­i­ties and ca­reerist schemes.

Re­al­iz­ing he’s per­haps the only per­son here who re­ally cares about sav­ing Cal, Ma­son keeps giv­ing Sandy et al. the slip to op­er­ate freely in his friend’s best in­ter­est.

Gil­roy and An­der­son have man­aged to make a plau­si­ble sus­pense story (the script was very loosely in­spired by CIA Sta­tion Chief Wil­liam Buck­ley’s 1984 kid­nap­ping, which had a very dif­fer­ent out­come) rid­dled with po­lit­i­cal in­trigue in the world’s geo­graphic cen­ter of per­pet­ual con­flict- while keep­ing it rel­a­tively apo­lit­i­cal, in the sense of tak­ing no par­tic­u­lar “side.” That’s largely be­cause, apart from our flawed but gen­uinely well-in­ten­tioned he­roes, nearly ev­ery­one here op­er­ates out of du­plic­i­tous self-in­ter­est.


Jon Hamm, cen­ter, plays a U.S. diplo­mat in Beirut in the film writ­ten by Tony Gil­roy and di­rected by Brad An­der­son.

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