ARGO Movie Review
The summer is over, and the good movies are finally rolling in!
A couple years ago Ben Affleck surprised all of us (well, those of us who hadn’t seen Gone Baby Gone anyway) with the thrilling heist drama The Town. Many Hollywood actors have transitioned into directing at various stages of their careers, and at best they tend to deliver smaller personal films with great performances, but not necessarily too much else. I don’t necessarily find this to be a bad thing; I’ll take a small, well-acted film over empty VFX-laden drivel any day! But what struck me about The Town was how cinematic it was. Ben Affleck not only had a talent for directing performances–he understood how to craft thrilling action sequences, riveting camerawork, and other techniques that usually come from a craftsman with a stronger technical background than just acting. I was always lukewarm about Affleck’s acting in other films, but this guy was a born director!
Argo is an even stronger film than The Town. Based on a real event in the Iranian hostage crisis that began in 1979, Argo tells the story of a CIA specialist (played by Affleck sporting an awesome beard) who helps six Americans escape Iran under the pretense of being a Canadian film crew scouting the country for a fake Hollywood movie. Again, Affleck shows great prowess in his technical understanding of cinema. For example, an early sequence mixing documentary-style footage of angry Iranians breaking into the embassy while Americans try to escape is particularly innovative. Across-the-board the actors are top notch as well, from such well-known faces as John Goodman and Alan Arkin playing the two Hollywood big-wigs tasked with drafting the made up film, to tons of smaller “oh that guy!” character actors rounding out the cast (including my friend Ray Porter in a bit role!), to even some talented new faces that I hope will have strong careers down the line. The actor awards are going to be crowded this year, but I would not be surprised by at least a few supporting actor nominations come Oscar season from this movie.
Another thing that makes Argo work so well is not only the interesting “true story” premise, but how it takes that concept to juxtapose the ridiculousness of Hollywood (something Affleck no doubt understands first-hand) with the desperation of the situation in Iran. One particular sequence that stands out is when a glitzy party is held to raise awareness of the fake “Argo” film (a cheesy Star Wars rip-off). As actors in outlandishly goofy costumes read cornball lines out of their cheesy script, the images are intercut with grim Iranians reading their demands to the press. I’m still scratching my head at what Affleck may have been trying to say here, but it was nevertheless very droll and entertaining, and the movie is full of wry little moments like this in what could easily have become a very self-serious film.
Of course there are nitpicks. Argo suffers bit from the “Did it really happen that way?” syndrome that many of these “true story” movies fall into, particularly in the climax where just about every little thing that can go wrong does. I’m all for a little embellishment in the tale if it makes the film more entertaining and Argo comes very close to getting away with it, but there were at least a couple moments that had me rolling my eyes. The movie also makes a point of showing the other American hostages (aside from the main six) suffering as a way to show the stakes for the main characters if the plan doesn’t work, but instead it wound up making me worry about all the other hostages who aren’t even the focus of the movie. Also, an opening sequence detailing the history of Iran via painted storyboards is very helpful for an uneducated infidel like me, but it definitely feels like a note coming from the studio, and is not integrated as artfully as it could have been.
But these are small issues in what is overall an immensely entertaining film, and the first good drama we have for the 2012 awards season. Check it out!