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Posts Tagged ‘“Beirut”’

Zain Al Rafeea

“CAPERNAUM” My rating: B+

126 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Personal drama and social commentary find an almost perfect marriage in “Capernaum,” an  Oscar-nominated (for foreign language film) heartbreaker about a little boy navigating life on the mean streets of Beirut.

Written and directed by Nadine Labaki (whose earlier efforts — “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now?” — look simplistic by comparison), “Capernaum” stars 12-year-old Zain Al Rafeea, who gives a performance for the ages.

The story is bookended by a trial.  Young Zain (Al Rafeea) is currently in juvenile lockup for, in his words, “stabbing the son of a bitch.” Now he has dragged  his no-good parents (Kawsar Al Haddad, Fadi Yousef) into court; basically he’s suing them for giving  birth to him.

Filmmaker Labaki does not dwell long on this improbable  spectacle. Most of “Capernaum” is a long flashback depicting how things came to this sad state. Zain’s journey is like that of a Dickens protagonist through a world of few pleasures and much indifference.

Right from the get-go it’s obvious that Zain is one tough little guy. He swears like a sailor and has a chip-on-his-shoulder attitude. He is uncowed by adult authority and is openly contemptuous of his parents, crooks whose current scam is delivering drug-impregnated clothing to Zain’s imprisoned older brother.

The only family member Zain cares about  is his older sister Sahar (Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam). When the frightened girl experiences her first period, Zain explains what’s what and gives her his T-shirt to use as a menstrual pad, warning her not to tell anyone that she’s reached this milestone. Sure enough, once their parents get wind of Sahar’s condition they sell her to their landlord.

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Jon Hamm

“BEIRUT”  My rating: B-

109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Beirut” is a decent LeCarresque thriller that doesn’t live up to its advance hype.

It’s O.K. Not great. It features  a solid central performance by Jon Hamm as a boozy former diplomat with a bad case of existential angst, and Moroccan locations that fill in nicely for the war-ravaged city of the title.

But too often this effort from writer Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “Rogue One”) and veteran TV director Brad Anderson feels overly familiar. The plot, characters and situations offer a well-produced retread of material we’ve already seen many times before.

Gilroy’s screenplay begins in Beirut in 1972.  American diplomat Mason Skiles (Hamm) is presiding over a cocktail party in his residence overlooking the city known by many as the Paris of the Mideast.

Civil war is brewing, but Mason has dedicated his diplomatic skills to averting armed conflict among Lebanon’s native Muslims and Christians, not to mention the Palestinian refugees who are flooding the country and the Israeli military presence hovering at the  border.

It says much about Mason’s liberality that he is married to a Lebanese woman and the couple have taken in a teenaged Palestinian refugee named Karim.

In mere minutes, Mason’s world falls apart. CIA thugs show up to snatch Karim, having just discovered that the boy is the younger brother of a known terrorist. At the same time Karim’s sibling shows up to grab the kid. In the ensuing mayhem Mason’s wife is gunned down.

A decade later we find Mason back in the states using his negotiating skills to settle labor disputes. His heart really isn’t in his work, though. He’s a lush with nothing to live for.

 

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