"Deadline" star Christopher Walken looks as if somebody just smacked him right between the eyes with a ball peen hammer. Maybe that's how most of us would look if we suddenly found ourselves, as he does, in blood-soaked, bullet-riddled Beirut.
Then again, he's probably bewildered by this complex political thriller, a pro-peace polemic from Israeli director Nathaniel Gutman. It's a well-meaning but murky look at the events that led up to the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982 and the Christian Phalangists' retaliatory massacre of Palestinian refugees.
Here Gutman and screenwriter Hanan Peled have conspired with their hearts instead of their heads. They've tried to strike the perfect political balance, to make a film for all factions. As a result, "Deadline" is plot-heavy and impossibly intricate, a muddled mystery with a mission.
Walken plays Don Stevens, an indifferent, unbiased network news reporter who has spent his career covering one battlefield after another. He covers this war from his hotel room, piecing together stories from other correspondents' outtakes, until he is offered an exclusive interview with a highly placed PLO boss.
Abu-Raidd (Amos Lavie), his face masked in darkness, makes an on-air plea for peace negotiations with Israel. When it later becomes clear that Abu-Raidd was a faker, Stevens begins a search for the impostor. Along the way, he is banged up by the Phalangists, who think he's a PLO spy; by the PLO, who think he's an Israeli stoolie; and by the Israelis, who think he's a nudzh.
Stevens is as gullible as a promiscuous teen-ager in a high school slasher movie. He'll go anywhere with anyone as long as it's dark, deserted and off in the boondocks. Preferably with a guy wearing a headdress. "He pointed a gun at me," he whines to a Phalangist leader, who responds by introducing Stevens to his desk top. "I'm just a journalist," he says. "You are an idiot," says the leader. And he's right.
Stevens knows nothing of stealth, not to mention investigative reporting. No Mike Wallace, this guy. Nope, he drives up to PLO headquarters as brazenly as if he were Charles Kurault after a quirky little story from some farmer who just grew a giant squash. Nevertheless, it all comes together for the jaded journalist, who mends his ways in the end.
"Deadline" is best at contrasting the impassioned lunacy of the war zone with the cool sterility of the news-gathering professionals -- not the on-air journalists, but the TV technicians at satellite central who dish up the war to the world. Something to watch for supper. But despite the wealth of raw material here, the emotionally involved movie makers botched their opportunity to make a "Salvador" for Lebanon and the network news.
Deadline, at the Circle MacArthur, is rated R for violence.