The movie “Beirut” depicts the utter devastation wreaked on this ancient Mediterranean citadel reputed to have been the “Paris of the Middle East”. As displaced Palestinians flood Lebanese ghettos previously known for their diversity and tolerance, civil war breaks out and the resultant polarization transforms this cultured city on the sea into a hell on earth.
For all that of a backdrop, the story is mostly concerned with the shifting fortunes of two former friends and an adopted child now grown to manhood and very much a product of his times.
The story opens in about 1972 when the hero’s family is attacked and his adopted son is returned to terrorist relatives. In disillusionment, he abandons an unusually promising career in the US State Department and a scrumptious villa in his adopted country for the solace of liquor and a low-key, low-pay job in labor negotiations back home in the States.
Fortunately, he misses the start of the Lebanese Civil war which begins about 1975. But suddenly at its height in 1982, he is mysteriously recalled to Beirut just as the Israelis are about to compound the apparently never-ending Mid-East train wreck with an ill-considered invasion.
Shadowy characters, murky nationalistic ambitions, shifting allegiances, innumerable factions all at each other’s throats, play out as old friends struggle to redeem themselves. What shines through is the intelligence and negotiating skill of the besotted hero, whose prior reputation as the brightest star in government diplomatic circles, is universally disparaged.
In time, evil self-serving bureaucrats get their comeuppance. And in an ironic twist of phrase, the movie ends with the pronouncement that everything mostly turned out all right, just as Israeli tanks roll in to massively increase the body count.
All in all, this is a low key action movie with modest rewards for being able to read between the lines of an ever changing mix of good and evil intentions. It is an interesting portrayal of human frailties but not with exceptional intensity despite the occasional modicum of carnage. And so I can recommend the human drama with the added benefit of an insight into the tragedies of Mid-Eastern politics.