It is 1982, and Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) is a depressed union negotiator, living out of a suitcase, and drowning his dark past in booze. (And no one can make booze come out of his pores onscreen like Jon Hamm.) We find out how he got this way when he gets a mysterious summons and a plane ticket to go directly to Beirut, Lebanon that night. And he’d better be on that plane.
Back in Lebanon, he confronted with his past as a diplomat a decade earlier. That was when the civil war started to get bad, and he ended up walking away after his wife was killed during a raid and kidnapping at a party of hobnobbers. Now the city is rubble, and his old friend and colleague has now been kidnapped and requested Skiles as the negotiator. In return, Skiles may get closure on the death of his wife.
There is nothing really wrong with Beirut, as far as from the viewpoint of the uninformed. You get a very high level overview of a region with millennia of violence between warring religions and cultures. Whether the schemers and plotters are the Palestinians or the Israelis or the American intelligence agents, no one really comes across well. All are scheming for their own political benefit, regardless of body count.
Towards the end of the film, I couldn’t help but feel it was a bit irresponsible to create a fictional film that tied a fictional main character to multiple major terrorist attacks from the 1970s, including the oft-mentioned killing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The bad guys aren’t really fleshed out with motivation, other than brandishing guns and killing people (probably part of the complaint of Lebanese that Arabs are portrayed really poorly in this film). Then when the film wraps up for our American protagonist, the film tacks on real footage of real incidents and carnage that happened in the city around the same time in the story. (Why show the bombed Marine barracks in Beirut with no explanation and context, except to get the viewers riled up?) If Beirut succeeds in one thing, it got me curious to learn more about the city and about Lebanon. As a political thriller, it is an entertaining enough (if kind of forgettable) diversion, but in this era of anti-Arab and Muslim hostility, I guess I wanted some more nuance beyond just an American perspective.