Saturday, October 13, 2012

Argo Review

It seems that Hollywood has lately been telling stories about itself. I mean last year two films about movie making came out in The Artist and Hugo. Both were excellent. It was Mark Twain who said "Write what you know." The movie Argo is another movie about filmmaking. Only this time, the stakes are life and death.

Argo starts out with a short history lesson about American twentieth century relations with Iran. American and British intelligence helped overthrow a democratically elected Iranian president and installed the Shah, who later would be a dictator. After many years of oppression, he was dethroned by the religious leader, Khomeini. The film then takes us to the time and place of Iran, 1979. A mob storms the American embassy in Tehran and takes the diplomatic staff hostage. Six diplomats escape and hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Tasked with trying to finding a way to get the Americans out is CIA extraction expert, Tony Mendez. (Ben Affleck) That's the irony here. The CIA helped create the problem and now the agency must solve it.

There are no good options for the American government. One idea about having the diplomats bicycle their way hundreds of miles to the Turkish border is too implausible. But when Mendez watches Battle for the Planet of the Apes, (1973), a solution comes to his mind. He would pretend to be a producer of a movie, and fly the diplomats out also posing as filmmakers.

Mendez calls on a CIA contact, John Chambers, (John Goodman) a make-up expert in Los Angeles. By the way, Chambers is a real life person who won an Academy Award for the original Planet of the Apes (1968) and the ears for Spock in the TV show Star Trek. In order to make the plan work, Chambers calls on veteran producer, Lester Siegel, (Alan Arkin) to be part of the ruse. They decide to use the script for a movie called Argo, a cheesy space opera. After fooling the Hollywood press that Argo was a real movie, Mendez travels to Iran to rescue the hostages.

Director-star Ben Affleck is good as Mendez. But he's too good looking to be taken seriously at times. He's at his best when he relays real human emotions such as worry than barking out spy dialogue. It's the other actors in Argo that deserve loud applause. Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishe, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, are excellent as the trapped diplomats. You see in their faces, the real fear of getting caught and perhaps being executed. Bryan Cranston is dead on as Mendez's CIA boss. But it's the two Hollywood characters that steal the show. John Goodman makes his Chambers, an old movie veteran, full of cynicism. And what can I say about Alan Arkin? He deserves an Academy award nomination for his cantankerous producer, Les Siegel. He also gets the best line. "If I'm doing a fake movie, it's going to be a fake hit."

Now, I usually hate hand-held camera shots. They're too distracting and give the audience motion sickness. But Affleck uses them beautifully here. These shots give Argo, a documentary feel. It's a "you are there" vibe. They also make the movie nerve wracking. Needed because Argo is based on real life events that the audience may have remembered. Watching Argo makes you completely involved in this life and death drama.

Chris Terrio has crafted a fabulous screenplay. It's full of genuine dialogue. It deftly moves from comedy to thriller. Little things like the use of the telephone become tools of this thriller. Terrio and Affleck create one of the most memorable scenes in recent cinema. It's reminiscent of the baptism scene from the Godfather. (1972) They juxtapose a Hollywood table read of the script with the real life attempt by the Iranians to terrorize the hostages.

Argo reminds us that heroism doesn't always come from soldiers. Mercy and faith can give birth to heroism. Argo is a tense thriller. It's triumphant filmmaking. Conservatives like to bash Hollywood. But it was this time that Hollywood actually did something heroic. I say hooray for Hollywood. The grade is A +.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

It was good, that’s for damn sure, but there also felt like something was missing from the final-product to really take us by storm. Everybody’s fun to watch and the movie has it’s tense moments, but overall, it’s not as exciting when you know the out-come beforehand. Nice review Bernie.