Given the propensity of most spy movie heroes to do very little actual intelligence gathering and far more murdering, it’s always refreshing to see a protagonist concerned with solving problems with as little bloodshed as possible. This reluctant hero is Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a fast-thinking mediator pulled by the CIA into 1982 Beirut to broker a deal to retrieve a captured CIA asset from a PLO splinter group.
The Negotiator (titled Beirut in the US) is written by Tony Gilroy, and shares DNA with both his Bourne series and Michael Clayton scripts. There’s the militarised danger and action of the former, and the intrigue and institute-shaming of the latter. American foreign policy is shown to be a callous and poorly thought out disaster, run by people with conflicting agendas and corruptions and only the barest thought of how their actions might affect nations in the long run. It’s a bold and still timely political message that adds an extra layer of thrills to the mysteries and set pieces.
Hamm makes for an excellent lead, channelling some Don Draper confidence and charisma, but burying the suaveness and façade of control beneath a sheen of sleep-deprivation and sweat. His likability pulls you through a story of grubby dealers and multiple equally reprehensible factions, from violent expansion-hungry Israelis to PLO leaders who have long forgotten the real cause. The finale is proper edge-of-your-seat stuff. Brad Anderson’s unfussy direction trusts in his actors and the dust-laden design and is enlivened with some jumpy, chaotic action beats.
There’s not much in The Negotiator that you haven’t seen before, from the war-torn Middle Eastern city setting to exchanges illuminated by headlights, but it’s still worth a look thanks to the intelligence and political clout of Gilroy’s script combined with Hamm’s star power.
CAST: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Shea Wigham, Mark Pellegrino
DIRECTOR: Brad Anderson
WRITER: Tony Gilroy
SYNOPSIS: Caught in the crossfires of civil war, CIA operatives must send a former U.S. diplomat to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.