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Ghosts of Beirut movie review (2023)


Created by Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz, “Ghosts of Beirut” begins every episode with the same disclaimer: “This is a fictional account of deeply researched events.” This research, curiously, is borne out in the form of talking head interviews that punctuate the prestige-drama action, with former CIA operatives, journalists, and Mossad spymasters stressing the significance of Mughniyeh’s reign of terror. He’s described as an “absolute Machiavellian mastermind.” The show’s titles introduce him belaboredly as “Imad Mughniyeh, AKA Radwan, AKA The Ghost. Mossad Target. CIA Obsession.” This is a bad, bad dude, and the show purports to meticulously track the heroic efforts of the CIA and Mossad to take him down.

Like Issacharoff and Raz’s previous series, Netflix’s Israeli military thriller “Fauda,” you can see the attempts at evenhandedness here. We spend as much time with Mughniyeh, both as an idealistic twentysomething (Amir Khoury) and guarded middle-aged man (Hisham Suleiman), and his wants/needs as we do the dozen CIA and Mossad officials either trying to survive him or hunt him down. He’s driven, passionate, and a born leader; much of the first episode is dedicated to watching him convince his first suicide bomber to do the deed. “You push the button and go to paradise,” he purrs to his friend, already driven to anger by his family’s death at the hands of Israeli bombs. 

But as much as the show strives to humanize Mughniyeh and understand his motivations, it struggles to keep up that momentum on the other side of the equation. Perhaps that’s because of the sheer number of people tasked with finding him over the years; there are three sets of protagonists over four episodes, none of them getting much screentime to lend their characters anything but the broadest strokes. Whether it’s Dermot Mulroney’s gregarious Robert Ames, working deals to try to find a two-state solution, Garret Dillahunt’s dogged and doomed CIA fixer William Buckley, or Dina Shihabi’s ultimately successful operative Lena, there’s little meat on their bones besides “let’s find this guy.” Suggestions of deeper motivations, like Lena’s desire to prove herself despite being herself a Lebanese Shia with a cousin in Hezbollah, never go beyond that. 

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