HAVING premiered at Sundance earlier this year as Beirut, the title change of new political thriller The Negotiator feels appropriate for a movie that flirts with complexity and chaos but ultimately defaults to generic spy movie beats.
Mostly set in 1982, the film, which gets its second EIFF screening today, stars Jon Hamm as the fabulously named Mason Skiles, an ex-American diplomat brought back into the fold to negotiate the release of a kidnapped CIA agent in the Lebanese capital. A decade earlier Mason had been living the high life in Beirut, where his detailed knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and his super-powered ability to talk made him an invaluable asset on the ground at a time when geopolitics was becoming ever sketchier. Ten years on and he’s a weary alcoholic drinking his life away to numb the pain of the personal tragedy that brought his previous existence to an abrupt and violent end. The soused middle-aged professional ruing his dead wife is, of course, hardly an original backstory for a main character in this sort of film, but Hamm – playing Mason as a kind of gone-to-seed Don Draper – is so good and watchable he helps the film transcend such eye-rolling clichés. As do Rosamund Pike as his CIA handler and Shia Whigham as the ambitious company man with the more nefarious agenda.
The problem is that while Tony Gilroy’s script is full of the kind of murky characters and stripped-down action that helped shape the three good Bourne films, it also comes burdened with too much declamatory dialogue and too many easily guessable twists. Proficiently directed by Brad Anderson, it’s hardly an essential addition to the genre, but as a big screen showcase for Hamm’s old school leading man qualities it has merit.