Saturday, November 10, 2012

Argo

By Sati. Saturday, November 10, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was invaded by Iranian revolutionaries - 56 Americans were taken hostage. Six others managed to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA is ordered to get them out of the country. With few options, exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) devises a daring plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. With the help of some trusted Hollywood contacts, Mendez creates the ruse and proceeds to Iran as its associate producer. However, time is running out with the Iranian security forces closing in on the truth while both his charges and the White House have grave doubts about the operation themselves.

I'm not a fan of Ben Affleck - neither as an actor, writer or director. Don't get me wrong - Gone Baby Gone and The Town are both good movies, but if I remember correctly neither of those made my top 25 of the respective year they premiered in. Argo, however, has a good chance for that, furthermore I would not be surprised if it got Academy Award for Best Picture. The film is thrilling, engaging, very well made and most of all - Hollywood saves the day and people's lives in it. But what makes Argo so special in so far uneventful year for moving motion pictures, the year, where at least for me the best films were mostly either from sci-fi genre or blockbusters, is that it manages to tell real story about real people with curious light touch, without pathos and yet it still manges to make you shed a tear.
The film opens with chilling sequence of the attack on embassy - we watch the employees as they fervently shred the classified documents instead of escaping, set on protecting other people and their country first and foremost. After the opening the film goes back and forth between the operation planning in CIA offices, Iran where the six people who escaped are hiding and the meetings Tony has with his Hollywood contacts - make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel. These two inject a lot of humour in the movie which provides nice moments of comic relief in between the tense and suspenseful scenes showing the danger the six escaped people are in.

While Argo definitely isn't my favorite movie of the year it has the most suspenseful and moving sequence I saw in 2012. It's the movie where you already know the ending, even if you don't know the story - you know these six people will be rescued, because, well, it's how it usually is in films. But the events preceding taking off of the plane made my heart race and the moment when the plane is in the air and everyone explodes with happiness was absolutely beautiful - I had tears in my eyes, though I didn't much care for the characters who needed rescue. It was pure movie magic - the triumph of good people whose courage created a miracle. Everyone fall in each others arms and smile. Argo is an ultimate crowd pleaser, as it would be hard to find happier ending in films released this year.
Affleck assembled very impressive cast - Arkin and Goodman deliver strong supporting performances, though they are mostly a comic relief in the movie. My favorite was definitely Bryan Cranston as Mendez's colleague in CIA - it's so great to finally see Cranston in a movie where he has something to do. He is such a terrific actor and he is usually criminally underused in his film projects. What made the triumphant success of the mission moment work so well for me was the expression of joy and relief on his face as he hears that the plane successfully took off.

There are plenty of recognizable and well known actors here - Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Victor Garber, Chris Messina and Zeljko Ivanek. Unlike Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Argo isn't the movie where certain actors clearly steal the spotlight - in the first one it was Amy Ryan, in the latter John Hamm and Jeremy Renner. Here the entire ensemble delivers good job, though there are no clear stand outs. Affleck delivers very good performance as Mendez - it's very easy to like him and we root for him not only to successfully extract people from Iran but also to work things out with his family and find happiness.
I don't know the real story well, so it's hard for me to determine what was fact and what was fiction, but I'm certain the chase at the airport was fictional. It's the miracle of movie magic again - everything is happening simultaneously and the good guys escape in the nick of time. But who cares when it works so well on the screen? Argo has some cliches thrown in it here and there, but the result is a very entertaining movie.In many ways it reminded me of last year's marvelous Moneyball - like that movie, Argo is a very slow burning film with one epic emotional scene - emotional for the audience, very subtle for the characters. Ben Affleck's subtle work reminded me of Pitt's delicate performance - they both played real people and they did so with a lot of respect and admiration.

The film isn't quite in  he same league like similar character driven thrillers as Michael Clayton or Frost/Nixon but it's definitely worth seeing. It takes a while for the movie to engage you but the pay off is tremendous - the whole film is basically a set up to the last 20 minutes of the film which are amazingly thrilling. The story is something to marvel at too - Tony, mostly because of his own courage and determination, saved 6 lives of people who were basically left on their own in a hostile country. And he never let them lose their hope.

Argo (2012, 120 min) 
Plot: A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. 
Director: Ben Affleck 
Writers: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article) 
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman
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26 comments:

  1. Yep everything you said. I also have the feeling that it might be the best-made film of the year, but since I have barely watched any of the Oscar contender movies, I will reserve my judgement.

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    1. It actually may be - everything else seems like those big, glamourous projects like Lincoln and Les Miserables. I personally enjoy smaller films like this one.

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  2. Great review! Glad you liked the film. The plane taking off is one of the year's most memorable scenes for me. I had tears in my eyes too - both times I saw it.

    Yeah, I think this could be the crowd pleaser that wins Best Picture, like The King's Speech. It's a film most people like, so it seems like a reasonable consensus pick.

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    1. Thank you! I really want to see it again, such a well made film.

      I'm pretty sure from my current top 10 this will be the only one to score big nomination, so I'll be definetly rooting for it.

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  3. I can't wait to see it. I've really been digging Affleck's work the past few years.

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    1. I think you'll definetly like it, I'm not a fan of his previous two movies but this one won me over.

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  4. Great Review !! Probably the best of the year yet for me. I agree with you that it can win Best Picture and I will be happy with that.

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    1. Thank you! I'd be happy too, nothing I want to win ever wins (apart from The Artist), so I'm content whenever at least good movie gets the award :)

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  5. Good review Sati. I liked this flick a lot and I definitely commend Affleck for his great direction, but to be honest, it didn't fully grab my attention and keep me on the edge of my seat, as much it's done to everybody else. Still, I can definitely see it getting plenty of Oscar nominations.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I thouht it would be slightly better based on all the hype, but it was still very good.

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  6. I am definitely not a fan of Ben Affleck as an actor -- I don't have an opinion about him as a writer or director. Anyhoo, I am really looking forward to this movie.

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    1. It's really worth seeing, I'm not a fan of his either but he was very good here and he did a great job with this movie.

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  7. Great take on this, Sati. I liked your comparison to Moneyball -- they are similar in many ways, and coincidentally enough both are among my favorites in their respective years. Affleck really nailed this one.

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    1. Thanks! I loved Moneyball so much, I really like subtle films with big emotional pay off. I agree, he was great both as actor and the director here.

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  8. Great review and I totally agree with you that the real life story amongst a sea of superhero and sci-fi movies are so refreshing to see. I'm rooting for Ben to get Best Director Oscar for this.

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    1. Thank you! I think they may go with Anderson but Affleck has good chance - the word on the street is that Academy members aren't very impressed with The Master after all.

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  9. Interesting it took a while to engage you. I thought the stuff at the start on the streets outside the embassy was absolutely terrific and grabbed my attention immediately! Otherwise I agree, great movie!

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    1. It was a great sequence, but it was kinda seperate - more like a prologue. The protagonist appeared later on and it took me a while to really become interested.

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  10. Argo had my heart-pounding from the moment the film started to an hour after it ended. It didn't do great things for my anxiety, but how many films this year can I say had the ability to do that? None but Argo!

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  11. Great review Sati. I can't wait to see it and any film that's compared in some ways to Moneyball, is in my cool book. ;-)

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    1. Thank you! I think you'll like it, it's very much like Moneyball.

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  12. Great review Sati, I agree with most of the things you said. Great movie, not quite the masterpiece some are saying, but a good one nonetheless. I still don't like Affleck's direction, but I am ok with it overall, and I am sure he'll get a directing nomination!

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    1. Thank you! I was quite impressed with how he mixed thrilling sequences with human moments in the movie, I agree it's definetly not a masterpiece, but a great movie for sure.

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  13. Great review. I'm with you on the scene when Cranston hears they made it and almost breaks down, that was the moment that got me. The attention to detail with the 70s costumes, vehicles etc. was impressive as well as everything else you mentioned. I felt the same as you about Afflecks first two films as well, promising but not great and I was reserving judgement. He has definitely stepped it up with Argo though.

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    1. Thank you! That was such a great moment. Yeah I really wasn't a big fan of his previous films but this one was so much better for me.

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