Brad Anderson of ‘The Machinist‘ fame helmed ‘Beirut,’ the cold-skinned political thriller that plunges the audiences, as much as its lone widower hero, into a volatile Middle East. The story follows Mason Skiles, a diplomat who returns to Beirut to glimpse a post-apocalyptic backdrop. He has to save his friend from some military fraction, one amidst many that have sprouted in war-torn and emaciated Beirut. In contrast, the movie discovers vibrant life in the streets of the middle eastern port city. However, if you ask whether the film is based on actual historical turmoil, let us scan deeper.
Is Beirut a True Story?
No, ‘Beirut’ is not based on a true story. Although the story is fictional, the volatile geopolitical conflict of Lebanon may have some truth. The depiction is precise and protruding. Many people from different countries have a stake in the mess. Nobody looks innocent, apart from the failed hero. Brad Anderson made the movie from an old script by Tony Gilroy, which the veteran screenwriter of ‘Armageddon‘ fame started writing back in 1991.
While making the rom-com ‘The Cutting Edge,’ Gilroy met producer Robert Cort, who happened to have a CIA background. The conversation started with Tom Friedman’s seminal book ‘Beirut to Jerusalem,’ which had just come out. They had some discussion, and Robert thought a diplomat negotiator would make a great protagonist for a political thriller.
The story would be fictional, but the circumstances would be tangible. However, Gilroy took the 1984 kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley as a model for the story. William Buckley represented a near-perfect example of a high-ranking CIA official. He delved deep into the spring of 1982 when Lebanon was a hotbed for conflict. Even Gilroy was surprised at some of the things he found, like the corruption and instability among the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization].
After ‘Argo‘ saw success in the Academy Awards, set in Lebanon in 1979, Hollywood had a newly kindled interest in thrillers set in the middle east, which were plausible both commercially and critically. Producer Mike Weber resurrected Gilroy’s old script with his blessings. Brad Anderson came to be attached to the project, much like Jon Hamm, the critically acclaimed protagonist of ‘Mad Men,’ a self-proclaimed Gilroy fan.
They spoke about how geopolitical events reinforce one another. The interlinking of these events from the Lebanese Civil War to the Nine-Eleven intrigued Hamm. For his no-nonsense cold-headed diplomatic demeanor, he took the help of a real statesperson. Other actors, like Rosamund Pike, also did some preparation by taking up Robert Fisk’s history book ‘Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War.’ She also dug into how the CIA treated its female employees back in the 80s. She noticed the agency’s lack of representation of women and gender discrimination within the agency.
However, Gilroy got everything right in the story he named ‘High Wire Act’ initially — from the involvement of the US diplomats to the Lebanese militia commander turned minister, Bashir Gemayel. So, if you need a crash course in the Lebanese Civil War, we shall sort you out. Bashir Gemayel was at the center of the conflict. With the help of his Christian Masonite supporters, Gemayel and his party, the Phalangists, rose to power.
The civil war was largely enacted along religious lines, between the Maronite Christians in the East and the large Muslim population, both Shia and Sunni, in the West. The PLO and the Syrian-friendlies were the major players, while many local and regional factions sided with their cause. There were boiling tensions, and in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the civil war at its peak. Gemayel backed the stance to serve his agenda and suppress the war, although his militia did not help the Israelis.
Gemayel, whom the US backed, was playing too close to the fire, it seems. On August 23, 1982, he became the nation’s president after heroically ending the Lebanon War. On September 14, two days after his secret meeting with the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, Gemayel died in a bomb detonation. History progressed even further, but thankfully, all tension had subsided by the time of the film’s release. The people during the civil war were old, and their grandchildren were old enough to understand the ripples of history. Therefore, the movie may be fictional. However, the story is wrapped in authentic linen.
Read More: Where Was Beirut Filmed?