Don Draper in Mad Men is one of the great TV characters of our time, brilliantly played by actor Jon Hamm. I’ve never felt he’s had a part to match Don since he left TV for movies, but at last there’s something very Don Draper about his role here in middle east political thriller The Negotiator, which was formerly known as Beirut before a last-minute name change, presumably to make it sound less bleak.
Hamm plays Mason Skiles – not as memorable name as Don Draper, certainly – a US diplomat enjoying the high life in 1970s Beirut, keeping the fragile peace until a terrorist incident shatters his life.
Cut to ten years later, Skiles is a washed up alcoholic settling local trade disputes and propping up dive bars – when the call comes via a shady approach from the powers that be…
Smiles finds himself thrown back into a bewildering game of politics, trying to negotiate the release of his former best friend who’s been taken hostage.
Given his alcoholic tendencies, Skiles is given a minder Sandy, played by Rosamund Pike, who makes the best of thin role with a succession of steely stares and dignified looks, both physical and sartorial.
Sandy and Skiles become pawns in a lethal game between Israelis, PLO, the Syrians, the Druze, with ghosts of the past returning to haunt them while the political future of the region looks ever bleaker in Tony Gilroy’s twisty script – he’s the man behind some of the Bourne films, so he knows the shadowy side of CIA secrets, and he brings them to the fore here, aided by Hamm’s pokerish sense of mystery and sweaty, stubbly urgency.
It’s a film where the action is in the talking, the deal making and double crossing, but it’s not without its tense chases and intense face-offs, capturing the atmosphere of ruin and confusion in a once-great Middle Eastern city.