There’s probably no clean, organized way to make a drama that opens in Beirut in 1972 and circles back to that city a decade later, after its landscape has been drastically changed by years of civil war. Perhaps that’s why Beirut, directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian), with a screenplay by Tony Gilroy (writer of Michael Clayton), doesn’t quite work. The plot takes so many twists and is so complicated by labyrinthine international affairs of state that it’s easy for the viewer to get lost. You also get the feeling that certain sociopolitical complexities have been ignored or elided.
But if you can think of Beirut simply as a standard thriller, the lead performances are satisfying enough: Jon Hamm plays a U.S. diplomat who was stationed in the city in calmer times–he left, in despair, after his wife was killed by terrorists, only to be forced to return years later to save an endangered friend. Rosamund Pike plays a clever, indecipherable CIA employee, the cat to Hamm’s mouse. Or might it be the other way around? If you focus on the acting alone, it’s fun to watch these two circle each other–but the movie around them doesn’t bring us any closer to the heart of this aggrieved city.
This appears in the April 23, 2018 issue of TIME.