3.5/5   aka: The Negotiator
dir Brad Anderson
scr Tony Gilroy
prd Ted Field, Tony Gilroy, Monica Levinson, Shivani Rawat, Mike Weber
with Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Mark Pellegrino, Larry Pine, Shea Whigham, Idir Chender, Jonny Coyne, Kate Fleetwood, Douglas Hodge, Yoav Sadian,Leila Bekhti
release UK 10.Aug.18
18/US 1h49
Mission: precarious. Pike and Hamm

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R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Beirut Edgy and urgent, this dark thriller may be set in the early 1980s, but there's some intriguing present-day resonance to a story. So while the action is more verbal than stunt-based, the film is well worth seeing for Jon Hamm's riveting central performance. And it doesn't matter much that the film shies away from grappling with the politics or expanding much beyond its Americans-abroad plot.

In 1982, a booze-soaked Mason (Hamm) is asked to return to Lebanon a decade after a tragedy when he was a US diplomat there. He reluctantly returns to now war-torn Beirut, where he meets Ambassador Whalen (Pine) and an eclectic CIA team (Pike, Norris and Whigham) that needs his help negotiating for the release of his old friend Cal (Pellegrino), a spy who is being held hostage by terrorists led by someone (Chender) Mason also knows. But the situation is seriously precarious, and what the terrorists want seems impossible to deliver.

Screenwriter Gilroy never shies away from narrative complexity, so a story set in the murky, violent political landscape of the Middle East is perfect for him. Every encounter is shadowy, events don't unfold as anyone expects them to, and the characters all have personal demons that eat away at them. Almost every scene spirals out of control in one way or another, pushing these people into various corners. And while the period sometimes makes the film itself feel dated, it also offers a refreshing gadget-free sensibility.

Mason is a superb character, and Hamm dives into the role with energy, intensity and a vivid undercurrent of sublimated grief and rage. This case couldn't be much more personal for him, and Hamm lets the audience feel every literal and figurative gut-punch. Populated with first-rate actors, the supporting cast is excellent across the board. Everyone adds layers to his or her character, even if they all remain on the sidelines. Chender delivers the most intriguing performance as a seriously conflicted young man.

Shot in Morocco, the film has a remarkable sense of authenticity, with dusty war-zone settings that bristle with life. Anderson orchestrates the drama expertly, maintaining a terrific sense that all of these people are on the verge of giving up and going home. Interaction is razor-sharp, violence is sudden, and people continually surprise each other with both humanity and the lack thereof. So the way the plot plays out is messy and pointed, with a haunting sting in the tale.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Jul.18

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