Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Argo (2012) - ★★★★

Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman

This was the first truly magnificent film I saw in 2012. Argo blew me away. It may not be a masterpiece, but it is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling, entertaining and engaging movies I've seen in a long time. However, I find it a tiny bit too simple and cheesy. It's one of those "America... F*ck Yeah!" films that begs the US audience to pat themselves on the back for their history. 

In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was invaded by Iranian revolutionaries and several Americans were taken hostage. Six managed to escape to the residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA is ordered to get them out of the country. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is the man who will attempt to get them out. His plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. Mendez gets some help from his trusted Hollywood contacts, John (John Goodman), and Ken (Alan Arkin). With the short amount of time he is given to create this ruse, Mendez is left with the extremely unnerving task of sneaking these Americans out with "the best worst plan" they've got. Did I mention that this is based on a true story?

What makes this movie great is the intelligent way that Affleck makes it suspenseful. It's not an in-your-face thriller. He didn't use loud and fast music or add in lots of violent action scenes. You could almost call it graceful, for the suspense of this true story is displayed honestly. The characters use intelligence and tact in order to survive, rather than unnecessary 'close-shaves' that many thriller films add in. Also, each character came across as an actual human being in peril, which was refreshing. In most cases, the characters would have been given a cliche persona that would make them 'standout,' but not in Argo. 

One of the greatest things about this film is its stellar supporting cast. The best of the best for me was Bryan Cranston, best known for his roles as the father in Malcolm in the Middle, and the show Breaking Bad. His feelings and disposition set the tone for many scenes, particularly when the Americans were trying to get through the airport. Alan Arkin played the veteran movie maker very well, sharing the comic-relief with John Goodman, who I felt was the funniest. Together, these three made the film even greater.

The only problem I had with Argo was that it seemed a little too... how should I put this... "Hollywood." It had a lot of 'schmaltz' or 'cheese' as I like to call it. Films such as The Hurt Locker and to some extent, Zero Dark Thirty, feel like a more independent, believable thriller. With Argo, I was always aware that I was watching Ben Affleck's greatest film achievement. It didn't fully submerse me in the environment, which stopped it from being a masterpiece. 

I will also mention that the score to Argo is amazing. Particularly during the 'clearing of Iranian airspace' scene. This was by far my favorite scene in the whole film, and you can thank the beautiful music and heartfelt acting for that. 

Overall, I found this to be one of the most entertaining thrillers I've ever seen. Ben Affleck can be proud of this achievement, for in my opinion it seals him as a better director than actor. Even though this is a great movie, it's one of the weakest Best Picture winners in the history of the Academy Awards. I believe that the top prize should have gone to either Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Les Miserables, or The Master (had it been nominated). 

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