Beirut

Beirut

In the opening scenes of “Beirut,” the suave Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) describes the location that also gives Brad Anderson’s new film a title as a “boarding house without a landlord.” This kind of dismissive chatter about a tumultuous part of the world is likely going to inflame the recent controversy about the perception that “Beirut” is just another film that uses the Middle East for backdrops and bad guys. (And the fact that it filmed in Morocco and not Lebanon didn’t help that controversy.) So, the first question in your mind may be to the validity of these complaints. Yes, it’s true that the trailer doesn’t come close to capturing the intricacies of the plot here, one of those classic Tony Gilroy contraptions in which the American characters, especially those hiding under government orders, are complicit and arguably more truly evil than the people on the ground. And the fact that this is a period piece helps explain the change of filming venue as Beirut 35 years ago looked nothing like it looks today. However, it’s difficult to shake the sense that some of what’s happening here is that classic Middle Eastern villainous set dressing—bearded men, lit in shadows, with generic Arabic music playing in the background. Mason calls it a boarding house, but “Beirut” seems remarkably uninterested in the actual cultural identity of the people who live there. However, that may be part of the point.