johnlink ranks ARGO (2012)
A year behind everyone else on this, perhaps, but finally got around to seeing the big award winner of 2012. Some others are all perturbed about Ben Affleck ruining Batman next year, but I think people just like to complain. He’s been on a pretty good run as an actor here since the decade turned over and he’s become a mature filmmaker in his own right. ARGO is one movie that has been sitting on my shelf unwatched for far too long.
I watched ARGO (2012) on 12.14.13. It was my first viewing of the film.
Historical dramas, the category which fits ARGO, can be a tricky proposition. How much truth do the filmmakers want to tell? How much truth are they willing to sacrifice for story? Which characters need to be replicas of their real life counterparts, and when is a composite character acceptable?
ARGO certainly isn’t afraid to make choices. The plot, based-on-a-true-story, tells of six Americans who escaped the US embassy in Iran just as it was being stormed back in 1980. These six folks camped out at the house of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) who worked with Canadian and US governments to get the folks out. American Tony Mendez (Affleck) hatches a plan to have them pose as a film crew (filming a movie titled Argo). He goes in himself to pull them. This film poses all of the planning and execution as thanks to the American CIA, though history tells us that Taylor and the Canadians had much more to do with it than the film gives them credit for.
This movie provides us with more than enough tension. Initially ARGO is centered around the storming of the embassy. Next, around the hatching of a plot. Then it is a race against time as the six seem on the verge of being discovered. All of this is before Mendez even gets them out of Taylor’s house. The tension really ramps up in a public bazaar and continues on the trek to the airport. History has already told us the outcome, but Affleck’s film delivers the suspense anyway. That’s not an easy feat.
This is shot like an old paranoia film of the 1970s. A mix of modern technology and old film blend together with wonderful art direction to really allow us to get sucked into the early 80s. Perhaps the final shots over the credits, showing just how accurate the filmed images are, come across as a bit self-aggrandizing. But doing so has been earned. Some might feel that the same level of detail that went into hair and mustache accuracy should have gone into story accuracy. Yet, despite its message of perseverance and the theme which centers around what people look like versus who they are, ARGO is truly a suspense film at heart. Certainly Affleck mixes in his share of messages and political points. Yet his first job, here, is to entertain. And viewed through that lens, ARGO is a rousing success.
This isn’t the historical heavyweight that Oscar predecessors like MUNICH or FROST/NIXON were. Instead, this is a thriller wrapped in historical fact. That doesn’t diminish the value, but merely changes the viewpoint of the audience. That ARGO won the Oscar may not be surprising. That Affleck did not get nominated is. This is clearly his picture and it is made with an optimistic tone which serves the heavy story well. Perhaps Affleck doesn’t have the directorial cache that some others do, but he did a heck of a job in delivering this movie.
FILM: 6; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 8; WRITING: 8; BONUS: 1
The bonus point is for the collective work done to make the world feel like we were transported to 30 years ago. Wonderful work between the costuming, art direction, set dressing, CGI, location scouting, etc. There is never a moment which feels ‘modern’ or self-aware.
FINAL SCORE: 8