"Taut Spy Thriller with Moral Implications"
What You Need To Know:
BEIRUT is a taut, compelling, well-acted spy thriller, but the ending is anti-climactic. It has lots of strong foul language, including some strong profanities. The violence is intense but not extremely graphic. It has a light moral worldview, with a nod to faithfully serving America overseas. To its credit, the movie favors peaceful negotiation before war and open physical conflict. Otherwise, however, BEIRUT has a Romantic view of the political background to Lebanon’s tragic modern history.
BEIRUT is a spy thriller set in 1982 Lebanon about a former diplomat turned alcoholic who’s asked to return to Beirut to negotiate the release of a kidnapped CIA agent from a Palestinian terrorist because he knew both men 10 years ago when a raid by the terrorist’s older brother resulted in the death of the diplomat’s wife. BEIRUT is a taut thriller with an admirable attitude promoting peaceful negotiations, but the ending is a bit anticlimactic, and the movie contains lots of strong foul language, some intense violence and an unsatisfying political view.
The movie opens in 1972 Beirut where American diplomat Mason Skiles and his wife, Nadia, host a diplomatic cocktail party. Mason and Nadia are hoping to adopt a 13-year-old Lebanese orphan, Karim. The party is disrupted when Mason’s friend, Cal, a CIA agent working in the embassy, arrives to tell Mason that the CIA needs to interview Karim because Karim’s older brother is suspected to have helped Palestinian terrorists kidnap and murder six Israeli athletes, four coaches and a judge at the Olympics in Munich, Germany. Mason and his wife had no idea Karim even had a brother, much less a suspected terrorist.
Just then, Karim’s brother, Abu, unleashes a terrorist attack on the party. The terrorists take Karim and, in the murderous assault, Mason’s wife is killed.
Ten years later, Mason is an alcoholic working as a labor mediator in New England. He returns to Beirut, which is now a warzone, to negotiate the release of Cal, who’s been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. Mason has to work quickly, before the terrorists can pry lots of CIA secrets from Cal or sell him to the highest bidder. The terrorists have demanded that the CIA find Abu, who’s become a world-renowned terrorist leader but has disappeared. Everyone suspects that the Israeli government has secretly captured and imprisoned Abu.
Mason and his CIA handlers, including a savvy female agent named Sandy Crowder, are startled to learn that the lead Palestinian kidnapper is none other than Karim, Abu’s brother. Mason not only has to try to get his friend, Cal, safely released, he also must confront the ghosts from his past. A question arises, Can Mason trust anyone?
BEIRUT intentionally plays like a taut spy thriller penned by John Le Carré (THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY). It pretty much succeeds in doing that, though the ending is a bit anticlimactic because the protagonist doesn’t quite succeed in expunging the ghosts from his past. The acting is good, however.
Thematically, the filmmakers seem to side mostly with Mason, Sandy the female CIA agent and Cal the CIA agent who’s been kidnapped. However, they’re depicted as individuals trapped in a system and a conflict that are morally murky. So, although these three individuals are sympathetic and heroic, the rest of their world is not. Thus, the CIA, the Palestinian leaders, the U.S. State Department, and the Israeli government are depicted, in varying degrees, as bad, sometimes with violent agendas that make things worse. Although the Palestinians don’t come off unscathed, the movie’s ending does take a shot at Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which was the second of several military actions by Israel since the 1970s. Given the violent actions of the Palestinians, including Palestinian terrorists, Israel’s military actions in Lebanon in 1982 and over the years are understandable, if not always prudent.
One thing the movie does leave out, though, is the involvement of the Syrian army in making Lebanon the rat’s nest it has become today. Syria first sent troops to Lebanon in 1976 on the pretext of protecting the Christian minority there, but changed sides almost immediately after that to support the Palestinian terrorist groups operating in Lebanon. The Syrian army, along with Iran’s Islamic state, is still involved in Lebanon today. Also, from what MOVIEGUIDE® understands of the situation, any leader in Lebanon who may want to start any kind of serious peace negotiation with Israel puts his life and that of his family at risk. Readers should also consider the extensive evidence supporting the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s ties to the Soviet Union and the KGB (“The Soviet-Palestinian Lie,” https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/9090/soviet-union-palestinians).
BEIRUT has lots of strong foul language, including some strong profanities. The violence is intense but not extremely graphic. It has a light moral worldview, with a nod to faithfully serving America overseas. To its credit, the movie favors peaceful negotiation before war and open physical conflict. Otherwise, however, it has a Romantic view of the political background to the Middle East and particularly the tragic history of Lebanon since the 1970s. BEIRUT is better at handling the thrills and suspense of its nicely written story rather than throwing a light on that war-torn country.