In Brad Anderson’s explosive new espionage CIA thriller, “Beirut,” the former Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has been plucked from Madison Avenue and dropped into the Middle East, linen suit and all. Meet Mason Skiles.

If you can’t tell from the get-go why all of this is so good, so rich in details, so scary and exciting, let me fill you in. It was written by Tony Gilroy (who gave us the excellent “Michael Clayton,” where George Clooney gave one of his finest performances and the first four “Bourne” scripts.)

Hamm, as Mason Skiles, is USA’s man for the U.S. Embassy in 1972, when Beirut was an international playground for the rich, the deposed and spies of all colors, sizes and shapes.

Palm trees and lagoons, hotel pools and verandas, information and rugs were all sold in the streets. It was like Rick’s Casablanca and the in place to be, and Mason was the new Rick, set in place by Washington as a greeter and meeter with the best cocktails and chatter in the Middle East.

Here Mason thrived with a lovely wife and a 13-year-old ward, Karim, he had rescued from the streets.

Get ready, Karim will reappear years later as the kid brother of the terrorist who, in the first act, leads a raid where Mason’s wife is murdered.

Shattered by the loss of everything, Mason left his job and fell deep into the bottle and back into private work in the states, as negotiator for private industries, a dead-end job arbitrating small company disputes. If not the end of the road for him, it had definite signs.

But duty called again.

As we begin, the CIA is back in Beirut that now looks like 1949 Berlin, a rock pile of desolation and death. One of its own, and by chance Mason’s old best friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino), is being held hostage for the return of the leader, the Mid East’s most feared terrorist.

The CIA would love to oblige, but nobody knows where he is, and his tribe will only deal with Mason; we soon learn why.

At this point, all Hell, and we’re in the center of it, breaks loose. Mason, aided by his CIA handler (an eye full of beige and bullet proof linen, Rosamund Pike, much calmer than “Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison) goes down the Stygian path into the abyss, with no promise of a return.

The final scenes will provide all the answers and leave Mason and his very blonde handler in one tight spot after another, with snipers from three countries, rifle laser lights and international clocks ticking — a recipe for a chaos soup. Surprises included.

Villains and heroes on all sides pop in and out: Arabs, Israelis and CIA bad guys (Larry Pine, Shea Whigham and Jonny Coyne, who have other plans for the Mid East).

Brad Anderson (“The Machinist,” “Session 9”) wields a powerful and cool hand. His cameraman Bjorn Charpentier is a magician with a special box of lenses.

John Debney’s music is what is expected and hits all the right notes.

“Beirut.” The Devil’s sandbox.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.