Thursday, November 8, 2012

Argo: Best American Film of the Year So Far

Movie Review: Argo

Director: Ben Affleck

Reviewed: 27 October 2012

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

"Argo" features a hidden CIA exfil, a mission into riotous 1979 Iran to rescue six American embassy workers who fled to a nearby Canadian ambassador's home to hide from certain capture and possible execution. Through an innovative introductory sequence with elements of graphic novels and newsreels, Affleck deftly summarizes the role of the US in the propping up of the Shah and his regime, as well as the rise of Ayatollah Khomeni and fundamental Islam. And then, about fifteen minutes into the film, he shows the storming of the embassy. Filmed with a breathtaking blending of news footage (or possibly just incredible attention to detail) and close-up shots of the eyes of the workers within, Affleck brings us deep into the battered embassy as the workers endure the chanting from the street outside and the rattling of the gates.

Ben Affleck is Tony Mendez, troubled CIA agent.
John Goodman is John Chambers, Hollywood make-up man.
Bryan Cranston is Jack O'Donnell, CIA higher-up, searching for options to extract the six.
Alan Arkin is a scene-stealer as a Hollywood producer.

They unite to get hostages out of Tehran in one of the most audacious plots ever concocted.

Argo has elements of "Wag the Dog" in its blending of the political and the entertainment worlds. 
This collision is never more apparent than during a blending of a table reading of the "Argo" script intercut with recitations from the Iranian and American politicians. All is theater, Affleck is saying, and his closing titles run over a panoply of "Star Wars" and "Planet of the Apes" figures.

Affleck holds the tension quite impressively, and the final sequence at the Tehran airport is perhaps the most suspenseful extended scene I've seen all year.  There are cuts back and forth between the turmoil of getting things done in Washington as well as the hostages hiding out.  A minor character, an Iranian housekeeper is not well-developed and late decisions with her have less resonance as a result.  As for Affleck's performance, he seems to be channeling a more is less approach, but the central moment of truth is remarkably boring, lacking any sort of dramatic movement.  Despite its occasional lapses, it is a rousing, pro-government, pro-American ingenuity work of art, and I think it will be the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Picture this winter.  

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