The Negotiator Review

The Negotiator
After a Beirut cocktail reception ends in tragedy in 1972, diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm) leaves the Middle East behind. A decade later, he’s pulled back into the fray to solve a kidnapping crisis.

by Nick de Semlyen |
Published on
Release Date:

10 Aug 2018

Original Title:

The Negotiator

In director Brad Anderson’s most famous film, 2004’s The Machinist, a mega-gaunt Christian Bale plays a man who hasn’t slept for months. Jon Hamm hasn’t similarly transformed his body for Anderson’s latest, The Negotiator (released under the better title Beirut in the US), but he too looks like he’s dying to spend some quality time with a pillow. Playing Mason Skiles, an ace American diplomat who’s been crushed by a personal tragedy, the Mad Men star has been gifted his best big-screen leading-man role to date (which is actually not saying that much) and is utterly convincing as a hollowed-out sad-sack drowning in grief and bourbon — says a government wonk to her colleague about Skiles at one point: “They had to pour him onto the plane.”

The Negotiator

An interesting character, then, and a script with some smart dialogue by Tony Gilroy, but the film itself is not quite so compelling. Striving to be a more adult version of the Bourne films — the fourth of which Gilroy directed, writing three more — it’s a jittery tale of spycraft that takes us on a tour of war-torn Beirut in 1982, but it’s still overly familiar stuff. After a prologue set ten years earlier, showing happier days for Skiles as a schmoozy embassy host, we are yanked into the future to find him reluctantly drawn back from America for one last job. Once in Lebanon, he must contend with various factions — non-trustworthy US spooks, the Israelis, the Palestinians — while teaming up with a CIA operative (an underutilised Rosamund Pike) who sees herself as more of a babysitter. There are double-crosses, tense journeys through checkpoints, and clamberings through rubble, but while it’s refreshing to see a thriller that doesn’t feel the need to chuck in a car chase or martial-arts battle every 20 minutes, the story feels too slight and murky to ever truly grip.

It’s a shame, because all the ingredients were here for a superior movie: a fascinating time and place (the story is set shortly before the Israeli Defense Forces swept through southern Lebanon), a capable director and a cracking cast (Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris appears — with hair! — as a State Department official, making this the second time he’s starred in a film called The Negotiator). As it is, it’s a fine, old-school tale of intrigue, albeit one that fails to really flesh out either the natives of Beirut or the American intruders. As strong as Hamm is as Skiles, and despite hints of a fascinating backstory, it’s unlikely to become a Bourne-style series.

Kudos to Anderson and Gilroy for making a low-action, dialogue-heavy geopolitical thriller in this day and age. But aside from finally giving its star some strong material to work with, it doesn’t live up to its promise.
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