This taut thriller follows ex-diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) back to Beirut a decade after a tragic event led him to flee the place. It’s 1983, the city is shattered by civil war and divided up into complex networks of terrorists, paramilitaries and spies. Not the sort of place, in other words, for a jaded ex-State Department man with a drinking problem. But it’s within this urban jungle that Skiles must negotiate the release of a kidnapped American with the help of CIA operative Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) and the hindrance of just about everyone else.
Surprisingly, the script by sharp screenwriter Tony Gilroy (‘Michael Clayton’) doesn’t linger on the complexities of Beirut’s conflict. It’s all about the ticking-clock tension as Skiles hares around the city trying not to get killed. Director Brad Anderson – recreating Beirut in Tangier – finds neat contrasts between the shell-battered and largely deserted city outside and the bars and hotels in which his characters horse trade.
As he proved with ‘The Machinist’, Anderson is a dab hand at capturing a man in the full throes of internal crisis and he draws a nicely pitched turn from Hamm as a world-weary but decent man negotiating this den of snakes. Pike, meanwhile, is quietly fierce as an agent operating in a world where even the so-called good guys dismiss their female peers as ‘the skirt’. If the machismo gets close to suffocating at times, ‘The Negotiator’ delivers enough grit and tension to make it well worth holding your breath.