Turn on the news on any given day, and you’ll likely see images of war and terror play out in front of your eyes. Often, this mass destruction is unfolding in the Middle East, a region that has endured seemingly perpetual warfare and chaos, with religious conflicts sparking military ones.
In 1972, however, life was different in the Mediterranean nation of Lebanon, north of Israel. Mason Skiles, a CIA operative working undercover at a teaching fellowship in Beirut, lives there peacefully with his wife, Nadia; their adopted son, Karim (whom they’ve rescued while in Lebanon); and their friends Cal and Alice. Both Mason and Cal are valued agents, men who understand Middle Eastern culture and politics.
One evening as they host U.S. officials in their home, Cal tells Mason that there is a problem with 13-year-old Karim: He’s wanted for questioning. But it can’t be. He’s so … innocent?
Yet, before Mason has a chance to protest, shots echo from within his home. Frantically, he runs to find that his wife has been killed and that Karim has been abducted—by the boy’s terrorist brother, Raffik. And just like that Mason’s life changes forever.
Now, 10 years later, Mason is back in the States. A depressed alcoholic and widower, Mason runs a small legal firm and prefers to remain under the radar. Until one day, that is, when he’s contacted by a secret agent who asks him to return again to the place of his nightmares: Beirut. He reluctantly agrees.
Mason arrives to find that the civil war and the Palestine Liberation Organization have turned his beloved former home into a place of desolate terror.
And though he’d prefer to drink away his sorrows, he will have little time to do so, as he is tasked with a life-endangering mission: to negotiate the safe return of his long-forgotten friend, Cal, who’s been taken hostage. It’s a mission that requires skill, finesse and the ability to negotiate with terrorists. And not only will Mason risk his life to see it through, he’ll have to face the demons of his past as well.
Mason is a loyal man who works hard to see results, despite his many struggles and issues. He strives to protect those he cares about, including family, friends and the reputation of his country. As a CIA operative, he is decisive, resolute and efficient. After many years of depression and grief, Mason returns to Beirut to help his friend (even when it involves risking his own life). In Beirut, he meets a woman named Sandy who becomes one of the only U.S. officials that he can trust. Together, the two try to rescue Cal.
Because of the chaos of modern day Beirut, a woman decides to place her children in a safe country before returning to search for her missing husband.
A civil war has broken out in Lebanon, and the country has been destructively divided between different ethnic and religious groups that include Christians, Muslims and Palestinians. Syria and Israel are involved as well, the latter of which hopes to take over the country. Before the civil war, one man describes Lebanon as “Christians in one corner, Muslims in the other and Jack Daniel’s in between.”
We see women wearing both hijabs (head coverings) and burqas (full-body coverings).
Couples kiss. Women dance provocatively and wear some revealing clothing. Men are shirtless on the beach. Women are seen in bikinis both on the beach and on a deck of playing cards. Someone mentions that a powerful warlord keeps a prostitute in his apartment as a sex slave. A woman briefly mentions her affair with a married man.
Multiple countries drop bombs on Lebanon soil. Terrorists and other guerrilla organizations abuse, beat and shoot people on the streets. Soldiers, terrorists and CIA agents carry weapons. Buildings and vehicles explode (often injuring or killing people). Some people are executed in cold blood: One man is shot in the head, sending blood flying. We see his body being dragged away.
Someone shows pictures of dead bodies to a CIA agent. He’s looking for a terrorist who is responsible for killing many innocent men, women and children. We hear that the casualties from the war number in the hundreds of thousands.
A prisoner of war endures extremely poor conditions in his cell. We see the carcass of a dead animal in a market. A warning sign in a hotel cautions against leaving in case of a terrorist attack. We see a coffin being carried away.
God’s name is misused seven times, including several pairings with “d–n,” while Jesus’ name is misused eight times. There are more than 30 uses of the f-word, some paired with “mother.” “H—” is used 12 times. We hear several uses of the s-word. Other vulgarities include “a–,” “b–ch” and “son of a whore.”
Characters drink beer, hard liquor, wine and champagne in various settings (parties, hotel rooms and bars, etc.). A man known as an alcoholic carries a flask filled with liquor wherever he goes. A few people smoke cigars and cigarettes.
Corrupt government officials treat people harshly and accept hefty bribes. Some people are quick to give up private and classified information if it benefits them. Men congregate to play cards and gamble.
Throughout history, Middle Eastern countries have frequently been torn apart by religion, war, violence and dictatorship. And in 1975, Lebanon was no different. As more and more Palestinians began to enter the country in the ’70s, that immigration contributed to a costly civil war that spanned 15 brutal years and claimed the lives of countless citizens.
And that’s exactly where Mason Skiles finds himself for much of this film: right in the middle of the chaos.
Beirut violently portrays what life must have been like for those in Lebanon during the country’s civil war. It also deals with the difficulties in navigating political issues during those times. Violence and harsh profanity permeate the script of this historical thriller. But we get moments of redemption and reconciliation, too.
History fans may be curious about this film’s take on Lebanon’s tragic civil war. But if you’re considering buying a ticket to Beirut, know that you’ll have to navigate that city’s war-torn streets and cratered culture along the way.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).