Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Argo

Yes, I’m back! Sorry, life is complex and occasionally difficult and movies are expensive (I aint getting paid for this folks…in fact, come to think of it, I’m PAYING for it). But, as penance for being away for…2 weeks, shit, I’m going to try to see upwards of 3 movies between today and next Tuesday (aiming for 4, unless something opens that I want to see Friday, in which case that might increase…or unless my roommate wants to go see Taken 2 and is willing to pay for me). But all that begins with Argo.

Argo is one of those movies that comes along every so often, then is a hit with multiple crowds. Taken purely on it’s own merits, it’s quite good, an incredibly well made and interesting movie, with a brilliant script, incredible acting and great direction. But it’s also a straightforward, well paced and intensely engaging thriller. In other words it can appeal to a general audience too. It’s the whole package, the real deal, it’s this year’s Eastern Promises.

To the story. It’s the Iran Hostage Crisis (quick version: After Iran deposed the US backed dictator, a bunch of students stormed the US Embassy and took a bunch of the workers hostage, past that, wiki it) and 6 US Embassy workers managed to escape and are hiding out at the Canadian Ambassador’s House. Ben Affleck (still doing penance for his entire career between Dogma and Gone Baby Gone and also directed) has the lead as Tony Mendez, a CIA Agent who has a crazy idea: Get them out by forming a production company and pretending to be a movie studio doing a Star Wars ripoff, shooting in Iran.

If it sounds like a plot that crazy just has to be true…well it is. And if you’re expecting a movie about making a real movie, where making the real movie saved the day to be full of winking in jokes and Hollywood myth making…well there you would be wrong. In fact, one of the things I find most refreshing about it, is how straightforward and almost clinical it is. Yeah there’s some Hollywood legend nods, mostly in the character of John Chambers, but for the most part it all passes without comment.

Perfect example: The concept artist for the fake movie is played by Michael Parks. Now, nothing odd about that, in and of itself, until you realize he’s on for less than a minute and is never mentioned by name. So you might, like I did, go to wiki and look it up and find out it’s Jack fucking Kirby. You know, the guy who created all those Marvel comics characters while Stan Lee was nailing his wife (little nerd inside joke there). But the movie doesn’t dwell on it, and it’s this refreshing lack of myth making that gives the movie the vast majority of its energy. It’s direct and to the point, moving forward at such a brisk pace that even when it’s slowing down to talk about Hollywood minutiae, it never feels anything but engaging. It’s a testament to how good the filmmakers are that the film has easily one of the most tense final acts of a movie this year (yes including The Dark Knight Rises) despite not one character ever firing a gun or even throwing a punch.

All of the technical details are in service of this style. The script is a direct, straightforward, and the actors are all note perfect, especially John Goodman and Alan Arkin in the supporting roles. But special mention must go to the direction that manages to ease around what could be whiplash inducing changes in mood, between the somewhat humorous Hollywood workings and the deadly serious situation in Iran (during one scene, dancing back and forth from line to line of dialogue). It also does an incredible job establishing the mood of the time, both in Iran and America and most notably, doesn’t cop out in America’s responsibility for the circumstances that led to the violent revolt (Dear Cia: Installing the Sha? Not. Cool.)

There are issues, mostly in terms of the hostages. Put simply, they’re mostly a bunch of living macguffins. There’s some strong work from a couple of the actors but the movie doesn’t spend enough time with them to really give them a whole ton of characterization and a couple of scenes with them slow down the second act. But they manage to overcome it in the third act, even if a pair of them look a little too much like each other.

You know, I compared this movie to Eastern Promises in the first paragraph (well second, but shut up). But thinking back, I think a more apt comparison would be to Munich. It’s a direct, straightforward thriller about a recent event in history that could easily tie back into modern events without getting bogged down in them. And like Munich, it’s easily one of, if not the, best things playing right now, and a surefire contender for a bunch of Oscars down the line. Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he resented that crack about directors.

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