Friday 2 November 2012

Review: Argo

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Argo poster

120 mins / Dir. Ben Affleck

Based on a declassified true story, the US government initiate a dangerous plan to rescue six american citizens hiding in the Canadian ambassador's house in Iran after a political coup in which 52 other people are taken hostage at the US embassy. Tony Mendez, an experienced exfiltrator, is tasked to bring the refugees home posing as a film crew location-scouting a new science fiction movie: Argo…

This is a bloody solid film. It's worth saying that it's definitely told from Mendez's (Affleck's) perspective, and although the performances of the six terrified office workers are excellently crafted, I didn't feel like I really got to know them at all. I did get to know Mendez, although he's the hero here so that's forgivable. Argo looks, and feels, absolutely gorgeous. The grain on the film, the muted colour pallette, the camerawork, the period-soundtrack… nothing short of exquisite. The only thing that kept pulling me out of it was the lengths that this department of the CIA will go to to rescue six people that the Iranians aren't even sure are there. Especially when there are 52 other hostages who don't seem to be getting any attention from the US. As tense as it is (and the longer it goes on the tighter it gets), it almost shifts gear into a caper movie at one or two points, with John Goodman and Alan Arkin keeping the stateside banter flowing comedically.

Argo seems to be as much about making a cheap, knockoff SciFi movie in Hollywood as it does about the intricacies of covert hostage liberation, and even entry-level-me was sitting there marvelling at a movie which is apparently at the location-scouting stage, yet has a finished shooting script and poster artwork. Maybe things worked differently back in 1980? Yeah, I don't think so, either. The other thing that kept threatening to distract me from the plot was the 'true story' element, whereby I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to think who various characters in the movie industry could/would be. For example, I had the loudmouthed wisecracking Jewish producer down as Irvin Kershner, but at that point in 1980 he'd still have been working on The Empire Strikes Back. Pardon? You thought I'd go and watch a movie about 70's/80's SciFi and not have Star Wars at the front of my mind? Hmmm.

Seriously though, the only actual downside to this cracking film is Affleck's lapses into sentimentality, and more pertinently, the thick layering of Sweeping Music To Tell You When To Feel Happy™. There are genuinely emotional scenes in Argo, and the Warhorse-level of schmaltzy scoring is almost insulting to the audience. I know when I'm meant to feel warm and fuzzy, thank you. And after two hours of both oblique and direct references to the best and worst SciFi of that period, you only have to show me a shelf with the first twelve Star Wars figures complete on their group Kenner display stand, and throw in a 12" C-3PO and Boba Fett… then I'll start to well up, okay?

It's a strong story, very well told, and although it feels like it's lacking in frills occasionally, it's thoroughly engaging in a way that few films manage in 2012. Hang around at the end of the film for a closing round of actual-facts on the case and the people involved. Bearing in mind the Iran Hostage Crisis did happen, it'd be rude not to.


Also from the closing credits:
"Some scenes and dialogue have been fictionalised for dramatic effect"

It's okay, Ben, I'd guessed that much. But you've done such an outstanding job on a film so mired in fact that it doesn't matter too much. Not too much at all ;)

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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