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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Double Mini Review: Chappaquiddick and Beirut

Well, dear reader, the time has come for me to play catch up with reviews.  Due to my current work load, I have lagged behind in keeping up with some reviews.  And rather than just not review them, I have decided to post two short reviews of the films I have most recently seen, as I feel they are both worthy of attention.

This weekend will see reviews of new movies such as Rampage, Isle of Dogs, Truth or Dare and Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero.  I will do my best to make time to give full reviews to all four films, and I appreciate your patience with me.

And so, here's a brief look at both Chappaquiddick and Beirut


Chappaquiddick


Here is a memorable and possibly polarizing film that takes a look at an event that has kind of been kicked to the shadows of history over time.  On July 18th, 1969, Ted Kennedy‚Äôs car drove off a bridge and plunged into the water, and his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, died.  It would be some 10 hours before Kennedy reported the accident to police.  Chappaquiddick takes a close look at Kennedy himself (portrayed wonderfully here by Jason Clarke), and how he handled the situation, as well as how his family and political handlers reacted to it.  It also looks at how the fact that the event happened right around the time of the Moon Landing almost pushed this event into obscurity before it even happened, and how some political people wanted the story to just disappear.

During the week that the film covers, we get to see how Kennedy himself tried to manipulate the story, and used his famous name in order to draw sympathy from the public.  The film is quick-paced, never getting so bogged down in historical details, while never once downplaying the situation or the people who were involved.  We see scheming advisors, Ted's wife silently suffer through the scandal, and we see Ted's desperate attempts to garner sympathy with the public, such as when he showed up at Mary Jo's funeral wearing a neck brace.  This is a film filled with fine performances, but the one that stood out the most to me is Ed Helms in a rare dramatic role as one of Ted's chief advisors, who is constantly pushing for Ted to do the right thing, which he never does.

This is a movie that's bound to generate discussion by just about anyone who sees it.  But most importantly, Chappaquiddick puts the focus on where it should be - the woman who tragically died and was largely forgotten about, mostly due to the Kennedy name that was attached to her death.


Beirut 


As a thriller, Beirut is sometimes a bit too convoluted, and the ending is a bit too tidy.  But, it is still an effective story about a hostage exchange that manages to keep us guessing, due to the fact that the movie mostly plays it smart.  Jon Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a former diplomat to Beirut who is forced to return in order to participate in negotiating for the safe return of an American official named Cal Riley (Mark Pelligrino) who is being held hostage by terrorists.  Mason is a drunk and a far cry from who he used to be 10 years prior, when he witnessed his wife get murdered in a terrorist attack.  As the plot unravels, we learn why Mason was chosen, and his connection to the hostage situation.

This is a calculated spy thriller that, despite a couple slow moments, has been well thought out and well executed.  Hamm plays the tortured hero with a tragic past who must confront a lot of his personal demons well, drawing sympathy from us, as well as creating a strong screen presence that makes us want to watch him get to the bottom of the mystery.  He is headed up with a strong supporting cast, especially Rosamund Pike as one of the officials who must work with Skiles, and eventually develops a strong working relationship with him, which fortunately never develops into a romance of any kind. (A rare thing in Hollywood, even in thrillers.) Part of the fun of the film is watching how Skiles tries to stay ahead of the terrorists (and sometimes the people he's working for) in order to ensure the mission's success. 

Beirut is a well-executed slow burn thriller that never really blows the lid off the genre, but it's also strong enough to stand out.  It's also a movie that reward the audience for paying attention to the finer details of the story and the screenplay.  Though it's not without some flaws, the movie is still admirable in how it handles itself, never once dumbing itself down for the sake of reaching a bigger audience.  It's the kind of small thriller that I hope will find an appreciative audience, and gain a cult following.

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