Rated R, 109 minutes
The complex, well-acted spy thriller "Beirut" takes some well-worn cues from Jason Bourne and even Spielberg's "Munich," but it's a powerful reminder of the tense Middle East relations, even if it tends to oversimplify them a little.
In 1980s Beirut, Mason Skiles ("Mad Men's" Jon Hamm, excellent) is a former U.S. diplomat who is called back into service to save a colleague from the group that is possibly responsible for his own family's death. Meanwhile, a CIA field agent (Rosamund Pike) who is working under cover at the American embassy is tasked with keeping Mason alive and ensuring that the mission is a success.
"Beirut" is an intense, complex tale of espionage and double-crosses, grounded by a charismatic turn from Hamm as the alcoholic diplomat who's forced to relive some unpleasant events from his past; it shows Hamm's range as an actor as well as a nice transition from small screen to big screen in the same way Bryan Cranston did it following "Breaking Bad."
It's directed by Brad Anderson ("The Machinist") and is written by Oscar-nominee Tony Gilroy of "Michael Clayton." As a thriller, it moves along nicely, with some tight plot turns and peppered with a few action set pieces (one explosion, scene in the trailer, still makes you jump even if you see it coming) which seems pretty standard for this type of thing, but they're still entertaining. In addition to Hamm, the solid supporting cast includes Pike as the CIA operative assigned to Skiles and familiar character actor Dean Norris ("Under the Dome") as a colleague who may or may not be trusted.
"Beirut" is more problematic when it comes to its portrait of the Middle East, and like many Hollywood films, it tends to portray them as one of two types: thugs or terrorists, which is the case here too. It also tends to oversimplify tensions in the Middle East, and it gets tricky, especially with Hamm's character, as the American white male coming into save the day.
Even with those flaws, "Beirut" is a compelling, superbly-acted and tense spy thriller that's worth your time, and for seeing a breakout dramatic big-screen turn from Hamm.