Characters in director Brad Anderson's movies might accomplish worthy goals, but heretofore they haven't been superheroes. But maybe flashy capes are unavoidable in our current climate.
"I just finished a pilot for a DC comics called Titans, which is coming out," Anderson says. "It's my first foray into supersuits and capes and stuff, Robin and stuff like that. It was fun. It was interesting. It definitely was not my world as much, but we found ways to keep it different. There's other things beyond those stories."
His new movie Beirut features Jon Hamm as a burned-out diplomat turned union contractor negotiator named Mason Skiles who's called back to Lebanon to try to coax a militia group into releasing an old friend (Mark Pellegrino) who knows some dangerous secrets.
Hamm may have a matinee idol's face and a resonant voice, but he has usually played suave but tormented roles such as Mad Men's Don Draper. His Mason normally arbitrates minor labor disputes and has a drinking problem that could put the entire U.S. operation in Beirut in danger. He's a broken protagonist, similar to the role Christian Bale took on in Anderson's 2004 effort The Machinist -- a movie for which Bale shed nearly 70 pounds, making himself an eerie apparition without the benefit of special photography or computer-generated help.
"I guess that is a trend in the stories I have told or am drawn to, characters who are at a disadvantage or who are misfits or who are at a down point in their lives or who aren't on an ascendant path but on a descendant path," Anderson says. "I find that more interesting maybe because there's more at stake. They're struggling with things that are internal, like with Christian Bale's character ... having these paranoid delusions or with external dilemmas like Jon's dealing with in Beirut with all the external forces upon him trying to thwart what he's trying to do. Those kinds of characters are interesting to me as opposed to coming from a place of advantage."
The trailer for Beirut received some criticism on social media for depicting Mason as a sort of "white savior." In the complete film, the flawed protagonist has enough trouble getting a hostage released. That isn't likely to change the nature of the city as it was in 1982.
"Part of the irony is that here (Mason) is, his last negotiation was with a Better Business Bureau in Boston, and now he's in the thick of world politics. That's what's fun about it. He's not a superhero. He's not saving the day. He's just doing one, small act of heroism and even that is despite all the possible things that can go wrong. He's pulling a rabbit out of his hat to try to save this guy," Anderson says. "Despite (Mason) being a hero, the world still kind of falls apart. It's not very sentimental."
The film depicts dozens of factions as well as outsiders from the United States and Israel who have competing goals in the region. Even the officials within the American embassy are arguing over how to handle the situation.
"The fact is that all of these different characters have different agendas. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I do like that all of these characters seem to have competing agendas. That's what creates good drama, that kind of conflict," Anderson says. "I think the world (of 1982 Beirut) in itself is this bizarre sort of bizarre place. You have these beautiful five-star hotels in downtown Beirut and down the street there's guys shooting cannons at each other. There's that kind of combination of beauty and ugliness at the same time.
"There's that scene where Jon walks through this abandoned war-torn square to have this meeting. He looks over, and there's a woman and man in bridal costumes getting photographs of themselves. That was based on what happened in real life in Beirut at the time. In the no man's land between east and west Beirut, people would get their wedding photos taken. It was kind of a way for them to make a tribute to the city. ... We're going to keep on with our lives despite the city has been destroyed.'"
If Anderson has been aiming for authenticity for the fiction story he and screenwriter Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton) are telling, actually shooting in contemporary Beirut wasn't an option.
"We even thought of doing it in Beirut, but it wouldn't have been possible with all the insurance issues with the actors. With Morocco, there's a lot of [film] production," he recalls. So most of Beirut was shot in Tangier.
"We didn't shoot [Anderson's previous film] Transsiberia in Russia. We shot that in Lithuania. We couldn't shoot in Russia itself. It's funny how seldom you got to the real place to tell the story to make the movie. It often goes to other places because the city's been modified, or they don't want you there."
Anderson first broke through with the romantic comedy Next Stop Wonderland, which helped launch the careers of Hope Davis and Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's been able to make independent films because he also has long career directing TV series like Boardwalk Empire, The Wire and The Man in the High Castle.
Having the TV gigs frees him from having to make movies that feel like jobs instead of works of passion.
"I don't see the franchise capability in this movie, which is fine," he says. "It used to be when we made movies it was a 'one off.' Now, with the influence of Marvel, MTV and Netflix, everything is a sequel to a sequel. I miss the day when the lights go down, and the movie starts. You're told a story. There's a beginning, a middle and a resolution. You walk out; you've had a great experience. You walk away, and you think about it, and that's it, as opposed to 'I've got to catch up on the next one' or 'What's next?' It's so stressful. I just want to be able to digest one story at a time.
"Thank God for people like Steven Spielberg and the old school guys who are delivering gold old summer movies that aren't driven by anything else. I just find the Marvel thing maddening. I used to read comic books as a kid, but I wasn't that into it."
MovieStyle on 04/20/2018
Print Headline: Brad Anderson: No tentpoles, no sequels