Rosamund Pike and Jon Hamm are always wonderful to watch, and here in Tony Gilroy’s zigsaw plotted screenplay they are superb. Gilroy’s Bourne Trilogy is action driven and so is his latest work “ Beirut”. We find our protagonists in Lebanon in 1982. Civil war has the city divided into “sections like a pizza”. Mason Stiles (Hamm), a former U.S. diplomat, is negotiating labor relation deals for a Boston insurance company. A strike is on the table, but this is small potatoes for the exasperated Stiles. He is an alcoholic with a back story.

Flashbacks to 1972 Lebanon show Hamm in sideburns and giving a cocktail party for foreign diplomats. He wants to create a fair playing ground for a regional economy. We meet his wife and see their “adopted child” Karim, a 13 year-old camp refugee, serve canapés on a silver tray. Hamm is fluent in Arabic and charming. Hamm’s Stiles is an associate director U.S. Foreign Affairs, and a Middle East specialist.

As the house reception revs up, Stiles tells a U.S. Congressman that there are Christians in one corner of the villa, and Muslims in another, and Jack Daniels in between. His smile and his metaphors delight his guests.  “Think of Beirut like a boarding house without a landlord…tennants arguing…” This was Beirut before the Civil War.

Twenty-five dinner guests begin to be seated as Mason’s friend Cal pulls him in front of a family photo of Henry Kissinger, “We need to talk right now”. “ They want Karim for questioning”. Hamm is effortless as the father protecting his son. His wife, Nadia is seen hugging the boy in the kitchen as we learn from Cal that Karim’s brother is a terroist with ties to the Munich slayings. Cal produces a photo that shows Karim and his older brother, Raschid together. Mason continues to protest in disbelief as Cal tells him his bank account has already been frozen, and that the CIA wants Karim brought to the front of the house, now. In the next breath of protest, Mason Stiles witnesses a band of terroists enter his home and take his wife as hostage. Amid machine gunfire and screaming guests, a spray of bullets has wife Nadia dying in Mason’s arms.

Fast forward ten years later to 1982. Images of rain, windshield wipers, half eaten jelly donuts, and cigarette butts set the scene. Mason is drinking from a flask and dozing in a conference center parking lot in an old Pinto. A security cop tells him to sleep inside. We see Hamm shave, adjust his necktie, drink again from his flask, and splash more into his coffee before he ties his shoes. He is working for an Boston insurance company and negotiating with a tough union, a far cry from the U.S. diplomatic corps.

Later, as Mason sits at a bar, a former acquaintance brokers a deal. He offers $6,500 for Stiles to return to Beirut as an American University guest lecturer. We know the CIA is involved, and Gilroy’s screenplay with its intricate plot takes off: violent, intricate, and at times profound. Yet, lust, booze, and greed are in control, as much as ideological terrorism.

This is not totally a gender privileged male-action film, for Rosamund Pike, as CIA operative Sandy Crowder , knows the ins and outs of company safe codes, satellite imaging, and office and faction politics. She is more than her title: U.S. Deputy Attaché. Funny and perceptive, she undersells her position with the ironic line: “ I’m just a skirt in a car taking an irritated tourist back to his hotel.” I ,also, love all the hidden communicaies. Sandy picks up on Cal’s mantra of , “  Pray, Love Only” as an acronym for the PLO. Mason understands what fast talking Cal is saying when he states that “ He feels safer on a Sandy beach..safer in a crowd.”  Sandy Crowder is to be trusted. She can lie well, and lets the corrupt head of operations think that Stiles is damaged goods.

Tension turns into wild action when Cal is taken hostage by radicalized  23 year-old Karim. Karim wants his brother released from captivity and exchanged for Cal. ~ a straight up transfer. The problem arises in that no one is certain who has Raschid: the Israelis, the Christian Militia, or the PLO, or a maverick group. And then, hypothetically, he may be lost in the system. Cal has also been a “ thorn in the CIA’s side for years.” Intrigue and conflicting agendas circulate with tornado wind force. They have six hours to make the trade.

The plot line and writing are terrific. The mirror scenes with Hamm are great for the audience seeing that Mason is not secure in who he will ultimately be. Booze tempts at every corner. Hamm’s eyes and the sheen of his skin put a face on the demons.

One of the most nuanced and touching lines comes from Karim as he tells his long ago adopted father that he was “not a terrorist then, but in the morning.”

Glances at children and wedding couples trying to have a normal life in a fire-bombed and bulletproof ridden setting are baffling to us. Children hang on the guns of armored tanks like they are  swing sets. One-armed dolls are held. More emotional nuances come from Alice, Cal’s wife. Her anger and feelings of abandonment are destroying her. “ I packed up Nadia’s clothes. If Cal dies, you pack up for me. I think that is fair.” Mason chastises her depression. “ You have the girls ( her children) to think about.” Alice fires back with “ You say that like you know them.”

The skills of Stiles as negotiator are never side-tracked. The  poker playing PLO, the consort spy, the pay off to the young transfer soldier~ Nothing is clearly cut. “What would it take?” is the constant query. Brokering deals is always in play. At the film’s close, the frame shows news caster Peter Jennings; and we sigh at how much we don’t know about the world we live in. The American flag flows at the side of the last frame, and we sigh again.


Not everyone will go to the cinema to see a film that garnered a thirty-six percent critics’ approval rating. Rotten Tomatoes may have hurt this Mark Pellington film, but  this reviewer was glad I ventured ahead.

No one should expect an action movie with the title “Nostalgia”. Nostalgia lingers, takes its time, trumpets molasses-like meandering. Ten to one the four people who walked out had never experienced loss, or if they had, chose not to experience it again as a leisure activity. Having just come from a friend’s daughter’s funeral a few weeks ago, I was enmeshed in the vignettes of loss.

I admit to sentimentality. I keep things that have meaning to me. I even have trouble letting go of things that once had meaning to me. Admitting this, I enjoyed watching veteran actors become normal individuals wrestling with artifacts from their pasts just like normal people. Catherine Keener was at her best. No longer the old hippy, but a grieving mother, who wished that her daughter shared her interest in the detritus of her grandparents’ stuff. Keener’s shower crumble is dirge-like and real.

Other veteran actors are at their best here, too. A lonely Bruce Dern queries the insurance adjuster ( John Ortiz) with, “Might you be coming back?” Ortiz’s day moves from one tragedy to another. His  stops link one loss with another. Ellen Burstyn has a marvelous monologue after her house and that of a neighbor burns to the ground. Charred, walled debris surrounds her. Her items taken from a burning building are rhinestone jewelry from an aunt and her husband’s storied and signed baseball. Her retro traincase with its cracked mirror is evocative of so much as she drags it around to her numerous lodgings, that its symbolism becomes an archetype for both safety net and albatross. Burstyn’s lonely hotel meal is gray. “Can what we hold in our hands be the same as what we hold on our hearts?” Her treasure leads us to Jon Hamm and another remarkable sequence of  purveyor of artifacts to cherisher of them.

Hamm is mesmerizing as Will. He unwraps the Ted Williams’ ball like a priest. Each handkerchief fold is delicately lifted. He plants the seed that she ( Burstyn) is coming to unburden herself. He shares his own pain, really listens, and he holds her hand. Later, he admits to giving her a fair price~ “for me”. He restates reality to Burstyn, who opines that he won’t remember her. “Saying good-bye is hard. Ned is gone, and now so is his ball.” We love this guy. Soon he will have his own family ephemera to catalogue and keen over. Hamm is at his best in his silences. Lying on the floor listening to vinyl jazz, he is so watchable in hitting the right chords.

Keener’s daughter and Hamm’s niece, Tallie, is played equally as real and  true. Annalise Basso sounds like most of our children when she rejects any talismans of her parents’ or grandparents’ past. “ I don’t need anything.” When pressed, she explains,” It is hard for me to understand what all this means to you. This is your space, not mine.” Ironically, all of Tallie’s possessions and likes are digital. Soon to be nothing but lost. She is “wiped clean.”

There may be too many grief chords and platitudes repeated: too many “ lives lived” intoned, and when bare tree branches are framed over and over again, we get it. “Nostalgia” salvages some truth that is important~ not dumpster stuff all.



“Baby Driver”

“Baby Driver” will not give you pause. Rather this Edgar Wright action film will give you musical beats to drum through every car maneuver known to man, all seen before. Centered on the back story of our driver, who lost both parents in a car crash at the age of six, we wonder why fast cars fascinate. In a flashback, we see Baby strapped in the backseat watching his parents argue before mom rams into the back of a tractor trailer.

Besides serial car chases and robbery heists, we have a love at first sight complication as our young driver falls for last year’s Cinderella, Lily James, now decked out in waitress garb including her embroidered name, Debora. The music continues and there is some cute repartee about nomenclature in song. Babe suffers from residual tinnitus since his early accident, and the perpetual ear bud lyrics give him relief and give our movie the beat it needs.

Ansel Elgort plays our everyboy, who owes a debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey). He stole Doc’s Mercedes! But Spacey is the criminal mastermind who never enters a bank and never uses the same crew of wastrels twice, but Babe is his getaway driver, par excellence. A grizzled Jon Hamm and an equally thuggish Jaimie Foxx seem to enjoy their farcical characters while looking occasionally embarrassed.

Our setting is Atlanta, Georgia. Our title taken from a Simon and Garfunkel song. Our car initially a supped up, lipstick-red Subaru. British director and writer Edgar Wright has Baby recording his team’s conversations and then making music from the detritus. My favorite being “He Is Slow”. The driving for these series of brazen heists proves the reverse.

The dialogue is as bad as one would expect, “You get feelings in this job- you die.” intones Bats. (Jaimie Foxx). Bats shoots a store clerk for a few boxes of gum.” Tequila” plays like a music video amid gun shots. Elgort dances, runs, glides, and jumps through the Peachtree Mall after playing parking garage gladiator with Jon Hamm. Babe ends up on a bridge with Debora saying, “You don’t belong in this world” as he tosses his keys. Baby ends up in prison, but will be paroled in five years. Debora sends him tons of postcards, and we see them heading West on Route 66 with the radio blaring. Like I said above, nothing gave me pause in this movie except the 98% approval rate from “Rotten Tomatoes”.