Prove your humanity: 7   +   7   =  

Genre: Drama, Thriller 

Directed by: Brad Anderson

Starring: Jon Hamm, Jay Potter, Khalid Benchagra, Rosamund Pike

Three years after the finale of Mad Men, Jon Hamm’s career is looking stronger, and more diverse, than ever. From broad comedy in Tag, to the thoughtful Marjorie Prime, via a villainous turn in Baby Driver, it seems Hamm has been on a mission to prove he can do it all. In The Negotiator, he returns to familiar territory.

In 1982, ten years after the murder of his wife, professional negotiator Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) is summoned back to Beirut, tasked with securing the release of an old colleague who’s been taken hostage. In a city fraught with danger and double-dealings, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Rescuing his friend is only one of the challenges that lies ahead for Mason.

If there’s one thing you can say for The Negotiator, it’s that the movie uses Jon Hamm well. Though the character of Mason Skiles – a wounded professional who drinks to forget the death of his wife – is hardly original, it’s difficult to imagine a better fit for the actor. Hamm knows how to command a screen, and he does so, even as the action that surrounds him grows increasingly dull. It’s a shame he isn’t given more scenes with Rosamund Pike, who is also very good here. They have a grown-up, sophisticated chemistry, which isn’t utilised enough.The Negotiator comes to us from the pen of Tony Gilroy, responsible for scripting the Bourne Trilogy, Michael Clayton, and in an anomalous move, recent Matt Damon stinker The Great Wall. His latest is firmly within his wheelhouse; rooms full of angry men delivering chunks of exposition, speechifying, and betraying each other. Brad Anderson’s direction doesn’t appear to add a whole lot, he just makes sure the rooms are poorly lit, and the camera jerks around enough to provoke nausea.

You’d be hard pressed to single out a memorable sequence here. Every scene has some combination of betrayal, exposition, bad lighting and yelling, with the occasional explosion added in for good measure. The mystery of who Mason can trust amongst the litany of shady government men is almost impressively uninteresting. We’ve seen this all before. Lots of times. And done better.

The Negotiator, released in the US under the title Beirut, caused a minor uproar over the poor representation of its chosen location and the lack of any Lebanese actors in the cast. Many accused the film of being yet another example of Hollywood treating the Arab world without nuance; as a place full of peril and nothing else. This is perhaps a little unfair. Gilroy’s script does try to delve into the political landscape (admittedly using a pretty wide scope), and many of the American characters are as villainous as their Arabic counterparts. For a film that takes the name of the city as its title however, the lack of interest in Beirut’s people and culture is disappointing.

Fine performances from Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike aren’t enough to save The Negotiator from the fate of being swiftly forgotten. A fate it deserves.

★★

The Negotiator is in cinemas and on Digital HD from 10 August 2018

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