The Negotiator has taken a while to get to the UK, originally being released in April in the US under the name Beirut. Released here by the distributor, Signature Entertainment. You may not have heard of them quite yet, but they are responsible in the UK for picking up B-Movies with big stars. In the coming months they’ll release Escape Plan 2 with Stallone and Bautista, and Bad Samaritan with David Tennant. Thanks to them the movie has gone through its third name, originally titled High Wire Act.
This new title makes it sound more exciting than the movie is on its own. This film stars Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike, two actors who recently have had a string of box office busts or critically underwhelming movies, like Keeping Up With The Jones for Hamm or (7 Days in) Entebbe for Pike. Unfortunately, this is just another film to add to the pile because this movie has relegated to a tiny theatrical release for a reason.
Jon Hamm is a drunken former US diplomat who has fled Beirut after he is struck by a tragedy involving his wife and adopted son. He is asked to return to Beirut by Pike’s character to negotiate for the life of his friend. Hamm provides a relatively layered performance, balancing this drunk yet charming character, a role he probably perfected while working on Mad Men. You can also see that there are reasonings behind his action and the heartbreak he has experienced which has shaped him as a person.
Rosamund Pike plays a hard as nails CIA operative who’s defining traits end with that description. She is given very little to do other than to follow around Skiles and make sure he doesn’t get into any more trouble than he is already in, most of the time failing. There is little to no dynamic between their characters which is a disappointing outcome for two great actors.
Director Brad Anderson, known primarily for his TV work, uses the war-torn city of Lebanon as an interesting backdrop to this story. Middle eastern stories are very commonplace in film these days and it is always cool to see one brought to life so well. The film is a very serviceable thriller that the audience around me, primarily made up for people in their 60s, seemed to enjoy. Looking at it though, it is very run of the mild and bland when comparing it to films of the same type.
There is a decent enough script behind them, from Tony Gilroy (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Bourne Legacy). Jon Hamm’s Mason Skiles is fleshed out and like I said, his performance adds to this but the issues with the film come down to the overall tension of the situation never really meets its full potential, apart from the threat of his friend being murdered we never feel the stakes of the situation. This is because we never feel anything for the captive, the main plot point who manages to feel entirely disconnected from the story, he is just a name for much of the movie and we are expected to just jump onto the apparent “deep friendship” he and Mason have had in the past.
The backdrop is great and so is Hamm, there is no doubt about it but, all the other parts of this movie just create something that ultimately fails to hold your attention. Pike is wasted, the movie is dull. It is completely void of any real tension that this drama/thriller sets out to achieve. One day Jon will get the movie that rockets him off into true Hollywood stardom but unfortunately, we’re still not quite there yet.