Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movie Review: "Argo"

In the film Argo, Ben Affleck plays real-life CIA agent, Tony Mendez, during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, when Iranians took over the United States embassy in Iran.  It was during the chaos, that six Americans escaped from the embassy, taking refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador.  That is where Mendez comes in, trying to get the six Americans out of Iran before they are found and killed, by using the cover that they are members of a Canadian film crew, making a Star Wars rip-off, called "Argo."

In so many ways, where the film works best is in dealing with the historical aspects of the hostage crisis and utilizing what was happening in the world at that time to create a history lesson for people, who like me, were not alive then.  From a production standpoint, the film is meticulously crafted, often using 8mm photography mixed with the 35mm cinematography to create the look and feel of 1970's films like Dog Day Afternoon or All the President's Men.  The cinematography definitely mimics such films, with its emphasis on natural light and handheld camera work, making the scenes often feel like they were shot by a news cameraman in the real-life field.  As well, the production design is staggering.  Very often you see films that are set in the past that look as if they haven't been lived in and were built yesterday, but Argo actually shows these environments in a more real, lived in fashion.  Of course, when Argo starts to deal more so with the film cover story, it often falters.

While this is all part of the true story, when Mendez is dealing with Hollywood producers trying to create this fake movie as a cover, the film loses some of its propulsive intensity, languishing in humor, rather than the suspense of the other nine-tenths of the film.  However, these Hollywood scenes work on their own, thanks in large part to John Goodman as makeup legend, John Chambers, and Alan Arkin as an aging movie producer, both in top form, essentially portraying their charming selves.  However, when Argo returns to the matter of the hostage crisis at hand, it excels with many scenes of white nuckle suspense.  These are in fact, the finest moments of the film, when director Ben Affleck works to create a news-like feel in the hostage situations -- such as the embassy takeover or the escape from the Iranians at the climax -- by using minimal music and no Hollywood thrills to create a truly authentic, and terrifying glimpse at this event.  For these reasons, Argo works brilliantly as a suspense thriller and as a time capsule, and that is why it must be seen, especially if you were not alive during the event and have limited knowledge of its history.

I give Argo a B+!

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