Sunday, October 21, 2012


Director Ben Affleck’s Argo might as well be a double feature of two pretty standard films, but by combining them together he is able to conjure a fantastic ‘you’ve got your peanut butter in my chocolate’ moment at the cinema.  The combining of an espionage flick, containing the potency and immediacy of a great documentary, with the hilarity of a Hollywood satire appears almost effortless and firmly cements Affleck’s names amongst the best directors working today.

What’s the cherry on top of this Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Sundae ™ of a film?  It all really happened!  Well… actually only most of it happened.  Except for that nail-biting, hair-pulling, seat-wetting climax.  This is a story about Hollywood after all; truths have to be bent just a bit.

Argo’s prologue starts by very deftly defining the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis - and the political and social turmoil that led to it - through a series of storyboards that dissolve into brilliantly captured recreations of newsreel footage from the time.  It is an incredibly tense opening and daring in its depiction of America as the real villain in the story. 

Affleck masterfully cuts from the news footage and re-enactments to scenes inside the American Embassy where personnel frantically attempt to burn and shred all of their classified documents.  The tension in these scenes is incredible and is easily the high-point in Argo, setting a benchmark the film is never quite able to recreate.  However, it is this harrowing opening that sets the groundwork for all the scenes that follow, contextualizing their content and ultimately elevating it beyond its latent anxiety.

When six people – four men and two women – are able to escape to the Canadian ambassador’s house, before they could be taken hostage, it is up to the CIA to try to sneak them out of the country before they are caught.  Their only credible idea, a self-admittedly bad one, comes from "exfiltration" expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) who proposes that the six people would fly out of Iran posing as a film crew on a location scout. 

This is where Hollywood gets involved and the movie splits into two perfectly interwoven parts.  In one shot the camera moves from the floor of a Hollywood party, where celebrities mingle and drink expensive wine, to the kitchen of the same party where the destructive situation in Iran plays out on a small TV screen.  This balance serves to only heighten the satirical elements in Argo’s depiction of Hollywood as well as the American people’s narrow-minded obsession with Hollywood culture (even the time spent writing this review is called into question).

The only real flaw to Argo is its want to assure its audience of its realism while reinventing whole parts of its story.  It was annoying to learn that the terrifying close calls of the climax, which will have audiences leaning forward in their seats and repeatedly shouting “Just go!”, were added just to punch up the ending.

That being said, these inventions do make the ending all the stronger.  With the consequences for failure so clearly laid out, Argo has one of the most suspenseful endings for a movie this year.  Yet, these inventions don’t bleed into the rest of the picture’s elements.  Affleck’s Tony Mendez is particularly inert as a character and the film’s attempt to illustrate his family troubles isn’t particularly interesting or effective.

At its best Argo is able to match wits with the likes of Oliver Stone’s political thriller JFK or Sidney Lumet’s fast-talking Network.  It uses humor and satire as a way to balance out its pressure keg of a beginning and ending in a way that reinforces Affleck’s mastery of the film medium.  However, its inventiveness isn’t evenly spread as it tries to have its cake and eat it too in terms of its realism.  Either way, expect to see Argo be nominated for all kinds of awards (Best Picture at the Oscars) and to line up Affleck as one of the most requested directors in Hollywood.

3.5 / 4 Reels


1 comment:

  1. Nice review Dan. Liked it a lot, but I just didn't get to the point of where I loved it and I have no idea why that was. I think it's maybe because the ending seemed a little too known for me to really get myself involved with so intensely.