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October 20, 2012


Capsule Movie Review – Argo (2012)


Argo is an engrossing thriller based on a little known chapter of the Iran Hostage Crisis. Six Americans escaped the embassy by a back door and were granted refuge by Canada. To use the CIA’s apt codename, they became the Houseguests of the Canadian ambassador and his wife. With anti-American rhetoric escalating and the country increasingly hostile to English speakers of all nationalities, CIA “exfiltration” specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed) invents a brazen cover story: the Americans will masquerade as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a Star Wars rip-off. To make it look real, he enlists the aid of a monster makeup artist and a washed-up producer. The Hollywood-set scenes are an irresistible blend of spy game and movie business satire. With all due respect to the fine performances by Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s boss and John Goodman as the makeup guy, Alan Arkin steals the show as the producer. Screenwriter Chris Terrio is a graduate of the School of Sorkin and the CIA speak and White House politico banter are glibly entertaining. This is (high quality) populist filmmaking and the breakneck pacing and considerable humor work as a necessary counterbalance to the documentary realism. The movie’s inventions don’t extend to its historical reenactment of the terrors of Tehran, 1979. The notable flaw is the superficial characterization and abbreviated screen time of the Houseguests. As in the history books, they’re a footnote.

3 stars

My thoughts on the nail-biter finish [spoiler alert]: Argo has been criticized in some quarters for taking dramatic license, particularly in a largely invented climax. Even without knowing anything of the underlying facts it was obvious the filmmakers were amping up the peril for dramatic effect. Simply put, their final escape is too Hollywood conventional to be true. (The parts about the fake movie, on the other hand? Incredible BUT true.) The “will they or won’t they make it” close call at the airport isn’t factual, but it is effective- and effective at more than giving the audience a thrill. Nerve-wracking suspense is probably the best approximation a movie can create to what those people felt as they sat in the plane waiting to take off.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oct 21 2012

    This sounds interesting. I am going to have to see it. Nice to know that even at age 80 Alan Arkin is still stealing the show. I like the film poster of ‘Ssssss’ hanging on the wall of the film caption above. That is an interesting horror film as well and one that I have reviewed on my blog.

  2. Oct 22 2012

    The production team recreated 1979 with a scrupulous attention to detail. The mustaches are scary.

  3. Oct 24 2012

    Good review Helen. Not the most perfect movie I’ve seen this year, but is still an entertaining flick about a top-secret mission nobody ever knew about. Sadly, we all know how it ends and that’s what kind of sucks all of the energy out of this flick in the long-run.

  4. Nov 14 2012

    I found the film almost entirely uninteresting. The first act drags far to slowly to be interesting and the film never presents itself as a taught thriller. Strike One!

    The second act has almost nothing to do with the remainder of the film, in presentation. As a result it was entertaining and humorous and doesn’t belong in the film. Strike two!

    The third act, as mentioned in your review Helen, was constructed in a way that just added random ways to make the sequence last longer. (- Oh no! My pen out of ink! – Oh no! The tickets weren’t booked! – Oh no! This sandwich has mustard in it and I hate mustard!). Strike three!

    I was mostly bored with Argo because Affleck is the wrong director for it. The cinematography was bland, like of a TV series’; most of the performances were delivered without any conviction (aside from John Goodman and Alan Arkin who can do no wrong); and script was on autopilot from the start.

    Argo is hailed as a triumph and a huge Oscar contender but I find it to be mediocre in every category. It’s as bland and mediocre as The Amazing Spider-Man and almost as long.

    I watched it with a friend and we were both having troubles sitting through the film. That’s not good. Why can’t Ben Affleck make more movies like Gone Baby Gone?

  5. Nov 15 2012

    Aside from being integral to the rescue plot, the Hollywood scenes are a satiric commentary on the Khomeinists’ propaganda machine.

  6. Nov 16 2012

    Khomeini: I had to Google that. I’m not old to enough to have heard stories about Khomeini and having grown up in Israel you can understand why.

    And Helen, I know what you mean. But I didn’t mean that the second act has nothing to do with the film. Just that it feels like it because its tone is completely different from the rest of the film and it was interesting, unlike the rest of the film.

    Argo is the first film I’ve seen where the second act was the best [and only good] part of the entire film.

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