How did you know?

After our Spring blizzard let up last Sunday, we escaped from the house to see the film Beirut. We had seen the preview and it looked promising. Starring Jon Hamm, directed by Brad Anderson, written by Tony Gilroy, the film featured a story recalling the 1984 kidnapping of CIA Lebanon station chief William Buckley by Hezbollah operatives.

The film has received a panoply of favorable reviews. It was obviously a film aimed at adults rather than teenage boys (my low bar for movies without obvious warning signs). It had a 79 percent favorable critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Even if the Rotten Tomatoes audience rating wasn’t that high, how bad could it be?

We walked into an empty theater. I feared the empty theater presaged a dud, as indeed it did. It wasn’t all bad; it was involving to a limited extent. Among other things, however, I found the film’s portrayal of Israel and Israelis to be extremely distasteful, if not outrageous. I am glad the film is proving to be a bomb (of the commercial variety). That’s how I read the results compiled by BoxOffice Mojo anyway.

The experience left me with the question: how do audiences know to stay away from movies like this? I don’t know, but they do. They err occasionally, as they did with last year’s Thank You For Your Service. In my experience, they err just enough to make me willing to take my chances when the warning signs are not obvious.

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