Sunday, 18 November 2012

Argo

****
If someone made this up you probably wouldn’t buy it. Director Ben Affleck brings this stranger-than-fiction tale into vivid and very exciting life.

The year is 1979, the setting Iran. Amidst turmoil and revolution, the US embassy in Tehran is invaded. Hostages are taken but some of the diplomats manage to flee. Six such escapees find shelter in the Canadian embassy and the CIA hatches a plot to get them out. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and his supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) create a smokescreen. This comes in the shape of a fictitious Canadian film production: a science fiction fantasy called 'Argo'. With the help of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Seigel (Alan Arkin) they take a genuine script and develop LA media buzz – all to get the trapped Americans, posing as a make-believe crew scouting for locations, out of Iran.

The film is quite conventional in its form but Affleck’s workmanlike execution creates a fabulous piece of entertainment. The rip-roaring, wild and outrageous story makes for very compelling viewing. It kept this reviewer right on the edge of his seat. From the intense storming of the US embassy to its thrilling conclusion I barely found time to breathe.

It’s a fascinating story. The sheer bizarreness makes for an interesting watch but the film is not without its problems. The six diplomat characters are written so paper thinly you have little idea who they really are. On top of that they’re a bit pathetic and not very likeable. This is a problem because you need to be rooting for these guys. Ultimately, the only person I wanted to see safely out of Iran was Tony Mendez, the man sent in to rescue them. I wish more time had been devoted to fleshing out their parts, especially considering the large numbers we focus on in the CIA headquarters and the White House, many of whom seem rather superfluous.

The film is bathed in delicious seventies detail - much of it subtle which actually delivers more impact. From the off, the era-appropriate seventies Warner Brothers “W” logo sets the tone. As an aside, I never tire of this device. Other examples, FYI, include Fincher using a seventies Paramount logo to start Zodiac and Eastwood using a twenties Universal logo to begin Changeling – each lending an immediate authenticity to the film to come. (And you gotta love the studios for letting them do it.)

I’m a little bemused by some of the near-perfect reviews this is getting, as the script, at times, is a little weak. A lot of the humour falls flat and occasionally it feels a bit TV movie. However, the adrenalin thrills more than make up for it, making Argo a superior piece of work. (Hence four solid stars.)




3 comments:

  1. Literally just watched it, totally agree with your view....thought Alan Arkin was amazing, makes me want to watch little Miss Sunshine again. I also loved the retro detail, thought John Goodman a little out of place, didn't quite fit the role, mqybe to straightforward, not sure......great review and great timing x

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  2. totally disagree with both of you. Will knows this already (we watched it together) so this is for you Mike... so many problems with this film, primarily with the portrayal of the politics. just about every Iranian is either a foaming-at-the-mouth psycho or borat-like goon. and the good-old CIA saves the day? please - this is a classic hollywood history re-write, and then some. this time hollywood actually is part of the rescue. i remember the hostage crisis and it obviously is a deep wound on the u.s psyche. this smacks to me of a rambo-style cultural band-aid. trust me there's so much material for film studies class here - will keep students busy for years! and on top of that it's a mediocre film - a right old hodge-podge. ooh it's got some cool period detail! so fu*king what? it got 5 stars - 5 stars means goodfellas, casino, no country for old men, there will be blood... a candidate for film of the year, at the very least. average, average, average!

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  3. Hi Will,

    Only just watched this yesterday and I'm prone to agree with you in that I'm also a little nonplussed with the seemingly interminable fawning over this. Whilst I agree that it's a solid effort -the sense of period evoked through stylistic touches is at times excellent, I was particularly reminded of All The Presidents Men via the bustling and busy office scenes and the bravura opening sequence complete with what looked like archive footage was reminscent of Medium Cool, a heady mix of documentary style footage and that of the polished film variety - but I also found some of it contrived and like you said in your review leaning toward TV movie territory. And as for the 6 would be escapees I'm prone to agree with you there too - I didn't care as much for them as I did for Tony Mendez, I still however rooted for them but perhaps this was more out of a deep desire for Mendez's escape plan to succeed.

    It was good meeting you on Saturday, hope all is well and keep up the good work.

    Best regards,

    Kem

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