A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beirut is a fictional political thriller about a 1980s hostage exchange. Expect lots of guns and shooting: Characters are shot and killed, and there are blood spatters. Bombs explode, guards hit civilians, and there's some arguing. The main character (played by Jon Hamm) is said to be an alcoholic; he drinks a lot and sometimes nurses hangovers, but otherwise there are no consequences. Characters also drink socially at a party, and there's some background smoking. Language is strong, with many uses of "f--k," as well as "s--t" and other words. Glimpses of naked women can be seen on the backs of a deck of cards and on a TV screen. This satisfyingly old-fashioned movie is a combination of smart situations and strong genre filmmaking; it doesn't have a huge amount of political or cultural significance, but it requires strict attention and is probably geared more toward mature teens and adults.
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What's the story?
In BEIRUT, it's 1972, and U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) is in Beirut throwing a fancy cocktail party for all kinds of political elite. His wife, Nadia (Leila Bekhti), is there, as is the 13-year-old orphan, Karim, who's become like part of the family. Then agents show up claiming that Karim has an older brother, terrorist Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), and that Karim must be taken away; the day ends in tragedy. Ten years later, Mason is still trying to forget his past. He drinks too much and is working as a lowly labor-dispute lawyer stateside. He's approached and offered money to return to Beirut to lecture at a university; he reluctantly accepts. He soon meets CIA agent Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) and State Department officials Gaines (Dean Norris), Ruzak (Shea Whigham), and Shalen (Larry Pine) and learns the real reason his presence was requested: Mason's old friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino) has been kidnapped, and the man behind it is none other than the grown-up Karim (Idir Chender).
Is it any good?
With direction by pro genre filmmaker Brad Anderson and a smart, dense screenplay by Tony Gilroy, this political thriller is a satisfying combination of snaky, heady talk and fun popcorn thrills. Though by no means an accurate representation of a history -- or even of a culture -- Beirut feels like spy thriller the way they used to make 'em, with a big star drinking and swaggering his way through a role, staying one jump ahead of the bad guys and making it look good. Hamm captures just the right combination of emotional damage and seasoned expertise to make Mason Skiles compelling.
Gilroy, who wrote many of the Bourne movies, laces his script with barked arguments, terse meetings, heated accusations, furrowed-brow discussions, and realizations that certain parties can't be trusted. It's a bit brainy, and it requires viewers to pay attention. But the movie also knows when to cut loose with a chase, a foray into dangerous territory, or a shoot-out, and Anderson -- a veteran of horror and suspense, with films like The Machinist, Transsiberian, and The Call under his belt -- responds with crisp, tight, economical filmmaking. Despite its downbeat setting and bleak images, Beirut aims for diverting, grown-up entertainment and neatly succeeds.
Talk to your kids about ...
What did you learn about the real-life political situation in this part of the world during the 1970s and '80s? Did watching the movie make you want to learn more?
Is Mason a role model? Is he interesting or inspiring? What are his flaws? Does he learn from them?
Is Sandy treated as a strong female character? How much of this has to do with the time period the movie takes place in?