Set over 10 years and starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike, The Negotiator (known as Beirut on its international release) is a gritty, sweaty-drama with praiseworthy performances for its lead actors whose characters are embroiled deep in intense circumstances.
Beginning in 1972, we meet Mason Skiles (Hamm), a U.S. diplomat living in Beirut with his wife Nadia (Leïla Bekhti) who are hosting a party for those in important positions in his life. But there’s a key element here because they also foster 13-year-old Karim (Yoav Sadian), a Palestinian boy who’s lived with them and allegedly has no family. But during the party, Mason’s friend Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino), a CIA officer, arrives and wants to question Karim over a brother they didn’t know the young boy had, this is a man named Rami who has been linked to the Munich tragedy that took place in the same year. However, before Karim can be brought in for questioning, his brother turns up, abducts him and in the resulting melee of confusion and gun fire, Mason’s wife Nadia is fatally shot.
Flash-forward to ten years later and we meet Mason again, he’s an alcoholic, he’s working as a negotiator but for local labour disputes and doesn’t care much for what he’s doing. He’s got a loyal friend but essentially, he has pushed everyone away and is out on his own. While some actors could make this clichéd, Jon Hamm works it impressively and with strength. Hamm brings a gravitas to his role and gives another prominent performance in the genre I originally knew him from, despite his excellent comic chops. Hamm’s Mason always offers the viewer a genuine experience and even though some dramatic elements push the levels of reality, considering the setting, you believe him and his tough, yet intelligent, journey and – quite importantly – you want him to find redemption.
How will recovery come, you ask? Well, he’s called back into the country he left 10 years ago because there’s been a kidnapping and it’s his old friend Cal Riley. When you add in that the kidnappers have asked for Mason by name as the man they want to talk to, he’s torn. Obviously Mason doesn’t want to go back into the world he’s haunted by, but he’s given cash and flights by the government as he’s their only hope of a positive outcome.
While this could sound stereotypical, there’s something oddly compelling about The Negotiator and this probably comes down to the Tony Gilroy-crafted script. He’s a man who knows how to construct an exciting, interesting thriller. Gilroy’s history includes Rogue One, State of Play, Proof of Life and the Bourne Trilogy so he knows his stuff and world intimately. Alongside director Brad Anderson, the man who directed the Christian Bale-starring The Machinist alongside a wide TV resume, you’ve got cinematographer Björn Charpentier who helps create a dusty, dirty, tough world full of the unknown that complements the characters we’re invested in.
Rosamund Pike is also a stand-out star of proceedings in the ’10 years later’ act who plays Sandy Crowder, a CIA field agent working at the American embassy and assisting Mason in his quest to get Cal back alive. The Negotiator has a lot of twists and turns, enough to keep you absorbed and also guessing, even if you’ll work one or two initial elements rather quickly after the 10 year time jump. I also won’t go into the details too much on that side because it’s worth finding out things as you go along.
Anderson’s film is very much an ensemble piece and also refreshing to have, what feels like, a real link to that era and a closer look at preceding problems we’ve caused across the world. It’s a timely reminder of the past but also a fine, dramatic feature in its own right. While it may not compete with the thrillers like Jason Bourne, it’s got more than enough brains for you to hold onto to ‘til the end.