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‘A frontrunner who stumbled. But he’s manageable.” That’s the official precis of Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), former US diplomat in Beirut who, after personal tragedy sends him back to the US and into the arms of Jack Daniel’s, is asked to return to the Middle East to broker a tricky hostage swap. Bourne screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s thriller is gamely byzantine, establishing the complexity of the Lebanese civil war, the canvas in which straight-shooter Skiles has to operate. As one debate over the culprits for the latest car bombing goes: “The PLO says it’s the Amal militia. The Amal militia says it’s the Christian militia. The Christian militia says it’s the Druze. The Druze says it’s the Syrian army.”
But density isn’t quite the same as intelligence. Hamm, concealing determination behind his pat grin, worms his way past American double-dealing and Israeli stonewalling towards effecting the exchange. The script, though, doesn’t fully weight these intrigues with the character’s past traumas and squanders Rosamund Pike in an underwritten role as the CIA attache who chaperones Skiles. Director Brad Anderson made the striking 2004 psychodrama The Machinist, but this somewhat impatiently edited film doesn’t let itself settle into insights about the US role in the region.
Perhaps part of the problem is the western perspective inherent in this kind of Graham Greene-esque damaged-goods-abroad setup. Anderson spirits up plenty of smoky Levantine ambience, but there is only one semi-rounded Arab role (though, commendably, plenty of Arab talent behind the camera). More rigour, and The Negotiator could have been to the Middle East what Michael Clayton, Gilroy’s best work, was to the legal system. Despite possessing unusually detailed context for a thriller, it’s a bit like diplomatic efforts in the region: the same old story.
Source: The Guardian
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