Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Argo movie review.

After an unfortunate string of critical and commercial failures in front of the camera, Ben Affleck made a complete career turnaround behind the camera, wowing everyone (myself included) with his thrilling directorial debut Gone, Baby, Gone. He would direct something even better three years later with The Town, a fabulous movie. His latest effort is Argo, where he pulls triple duty as director, producer, and actor. I will admit that I thought all the hype and buzz surrounding this movie might be all for naught, as there are certain kinds of movies with hype I just can't buy into (just ask Prometheus), but this is one of those cases where I was happy to be wrong. The tense and highly entertaining Argo is a seriously great movie.

The film takes place between 1979 and 1980 during the Iranian Revolution, where angered citizens storm the US Embassy in Tehran, taking all but six people – who take refuge with the Canadian ambassador – as hostages. With time growing short, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, himself) concocts a plan to pass the six people off as Canadian filmmakers on location scouting. This requires him to seek help from makeup designer John Chambers (John Goodman), and Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), settling on a Star Wars rip-off called “Argo”. With the plan in motion, and time growing shorter, the hard part is for Tony to convince the frightened refugees to go along with it, knowing the consequences should their cover fail.

Ben Affleck does a fantastic job directing Argo.
Considering the fact that the movie is based on true events, you may already know how it plays out in the end. Even with that in mind, I don’t care. Ben Affleck knows that the journey to that point is what really matters. Evoking the very best out of Chris Terrio’s layered screenplay, he does an excellent job at emphasizing the tension of the situation, even amongst the more satirical moments of the film. His balance between the dramatic and comedic aspects is a highlight, as these two things manage to flow smoothly from one to the next without feeling disconnected from each other. With his creative sets, costumes, and photography, he also does a great job at immersing us in this believable late 70’s setting.

I especially appreciate how he and Editor William Goldenberg handle the pacing of Argo, making sure that not a single scene in this movie is boring. You tell me this is two hours? The way it moves, I wouldn’t have believed you. The movie uses a simple, but effective race against the clock structure that places an emphasis on intensity, and if you’re heart isn’t racing during the climax... Well, then you may want to check to see if you have a heart.

Alan Arkin earns all the biggest laughs.
Of course, it’s not all Affleck’s direction, the script, or the detailed technical design that makes this movie. The Ensemble cast and the chemistry they share is just as vital. Ben Affleck is just as good in front of the camera as he is behind it, and the supporting cast he surrounds himself with is excellent. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame heats up the scene as Tony’s CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell. John Goodman is warm and funny as John Chambers. The six refugees are all also quite good, particularly Scoot McNairy as the hesitant Joe Stafford. The hilarious and satirical Alan Arkin wins standout notice, getting most of the film’s best lines and jokes.

After all my apprehension to buy into Argo’s hype, it’s not hard to see why this is such a well liked movie. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the front runners for this year’s Oscar race. Could it end up winning big there? I sure hope so, because it's earned it.

****1/2 / *****

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