It’s impossible to watch “Beirut,” set in Lebanon’s capital city in the 1970s and ’80s, without immediately thinking of what’s happening today, just a couple of hours away. Google “Syria before and after” for some depressing photos showing the ruinous effects that years of conflict have wrought.
It’s the feeling Mason Skiles, the U.S. diplomat played by Jon Hamm, displays upon his return to the country he was stationed in until personal tragedy struck. In one scene, he stands at the site of what had been his beautiful home in a picturesque neighborhood. Now it’s all rocks and rubble.
“Big political themes don’t get addressed very often in movies anymore,” Hamm, known for his starring role in the TV series “Mad Men” as well as movies including Atlanta-filmed “Baby Driver,” said in a statement. “I was excited to make a movie that dealt with something important rather than just having the action element or a comic-book element, which seems to be the tenor of most large-scale movies right now.”
Rosamund Pike plays a CIA operative key to helping Skiles negotiate a hostage release. The project was an enlightening one, she said during an interview with the AJC.
“With political conflicts, there’s a million points of view,” said Pike, who appeared in the central role of Amy Dunne in the film adaptation of “Gone Girl.” “I got a firsthand understanding.”
The movie, in theaters now, gives a fictionalized account inspired by the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990. Inspired by her experience working on the film, Pike traveled to Beirut after production concluded. The movie filmed in Morocco.
“I got so interested in Lebanon that I went with a land mine charity,” she said. “I liked the melting pot. It’s a city of intrigue, divided loyalties, passionate people. It’s a stopping point for journalists covering the Middle East as a whole. It’s always had a kind of glamour to it. There’s a wonderful cacophony of cultures.”
Bringing “Beirut” to the big screen wasn’t a speedy process. Writer-producer Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Identity”) started kicking the idea around in 1991 and began years of research.
“I didn’t have any idea the Palestine Liberation Organization was so complicated and stratified and corrupt. I had no idea about the complexity of the Israeli desire to get into Lebanon or the contortions Israel put itself through to justify the invasion of this region,” he said in a statement. “I knew about the events leading up to the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut. But until I started doing my research, l did not know all the intricate details. The PLO didn’t have exemplary behavior. Israel did not have exemplary behavior. The U.S. State Department did not have exemplary behavior. Nobody looked good at that moment in time except for the hero of this story.”
A fictional character.