The Negotiator (3 stars)

Under the Tree

Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike add a human dimension to Brad Anderson's espionage thriller

Charismatic leads Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike lend a certain pizzazz to this workmanlike espionage thriller, written by the Bourne franchise's regular scribe Tony Gilroy and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist). Hamm's role as an intermediary in 1980s Lebanon plays on his iconic work as Don Draper in Mad Men: his character is skilled but troubled, and Hamm moves through the gears to give the film heart.

The opening scenes feature US diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm) slickly networking his way around an embassy party in the early 1970s, showcasing Hamm's ability to conjure an effortless charm. Such levity is short-lived; his wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) is killed when the party is attacked, and Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), a Palestinian boy that Skiles has adopted, vanishes. Ten years later, a booze-sodden Skiles returns to Beirut on a mercy mission, only to discover that the adult Karim (Idir Chender) may be working for the Palestine Liberation Organization. CIA handler Sandy Crowder (Pike) is tasked with keeping Skiles off the sauce as complex discussions ensue.

Gilroy is too smart to spin this into a simple 'white saviour' narrative; Skiles' initial attraction to international politics as a fast-track career route causes him immediate remorse, and whatever redemption he seeks is spiked by guilt with regards to his country's 'global policeman' persona. The film eventually succumbs to the kind of boy's own heroics that the likes of John le Carré abjure, but most of Gilroy's working makes sense.

Known simply as Beirut in some territories, The Negotiator is a decidedly old-school thriller: specific in scope, limited in action, grounded in political realities and conventional in resolution. But Pike, nimbly playing against her recent terrorist role in Entebbe, and Hamm, always adept at suggesting inner turmoil, energise events sufficiently by adding that vital human factor.

Limited release from Fri 10 Aug.

The Negotiator

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 49min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Brad Anderson
  • Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jon Hamm, Mark Pellegrino
  • UK release: 10 August 2018

Mason Skiles (Hamm) is a US diplomat whose family is killed in a terrorist attack; ten years later he returns to Beirut to work with CIA handler Sandy Crowder (Pike). Old-school thriller, grounded in political realities and thoroughly conventional, but Pike and Hamm lend it pizzazz and conviction.