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Argo (2012)

November 26, 2012

9/10 Canadian Capers

Give it on up for Affleck, and give it on up for those Canucks.

Based on a true story that was declassified by the US government nearly 20 years after it occurred, Argo takes place amidst the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. Though Wikipedia can explain it in far better detail than I, the Cliffs Notes version is that the US government decided to harbor Iran’s former Shah (who was a very bad dude), so a group of Iranian militants retaliated by storming the US embassy in Tehran and taking 52 Americans hostage. Unbeknownst to the Iranians, six American diplomats managed to flee the site and take shelter with the Canadian embassy before things hit the fan. While certainly better than winding up a hostage, they’re nonetheless stranded in Iran with the militants hot on their tails. So back in the US of A, the CIA starts cooking up ideas for a rescue operation. Lo and behold, all their ideas stink, even the ones that have worked like gangbusters in the past. That is until a CIA specialist named Tony Mendez busts in and pitches the most stonerific idea yet: stage a fake sci-fi movie, disguise the Americans as a Canadian film crew scouting locations, and then fly them on outta there lickety split. Since no one else has a better idea, Mendez gets the go-ahead and tries to pull the gig off without getting himself or anyone else killed, or, you know, starting an all-out war.

First off, this story went public 15 years ago. How in the hell did it take 15 years for this movie to get made? Glad someone finally got the memo and passed the buck onto Affleck, but good lord, that’s a long time to be twiddling your thumbs over such a wild story that only a select few people actually knew about. I mean, for all the movies that claim they’re “based on a true story,” it’s always something special to find one we’ve never heard before, especially when you’re dealing with such a high-profile historical conflict. Talk about a no-brainer, man. We Americans live for this stuff!

What’s even more interesting/utterly humiliating is that I was generally/entirely unfamiliar with the Iran hostage crisis prior to seeing this movie. No, history was never my strong suit, but that’s really no excuse, is it? Even worse is that instead of doing some research on this beforehand, my brain decided to convince itself that this was in fact based on the Munich massacre – another event which I clearly had a tragic misunderstanding of. Yeah, definitely not my proudest moment as a member of the human race, but, oddly enough, there was a silver lining to this regrettable situation. Thanks to my fuzzy/non-existent memory, not only was I that much more fascinated by the knowledge being dropped upon me, but I had absolutely no idea as to how it would all play out. Maybe they’ll make it, maybe they won’t – who knows?! For all I knew, it could be another Munich massacre…which would be the worst ending imaginable.

But misinformation aside, the story behind Argo is one that’s tailor made for the movies. Lives are on the line, time is running out, and the only chance of success rests on a plan that I probably wouldn’t get my hopes up for. But you have to because it’s just. gotta. WORK! Plus, it actually-freaking-happened. That’s the kind of story that will always put asses in seats. And while part of me felt confused as to how it wound up on Affleck’s lap, the fact of the matter is that Ben’s come a long way since his Gigli days. Say what you will about his acting career, but the dude’s been batting a thousand in the writing/directing department. And regardless of what you just said about his acting career, Ben’s pretty good here. Sure, he probably could have given his “serious face” a much-needed break; sure, he gets outshines by his supporting cast; and, sure, he’s the one actor in the entire cast who isn’t a dead ringer for their real-life counterpart. But even with that all taken into account, he’s solid, he gets it done, and he carries his movie without getting in the way of its driving force: the story.

All in all, it’s just a really easy movie to get drawn into. It moves at an incredibly strong clip that only gets faster as the clock winds down, the dialogue is as engaging as it is hilarious, and everyone’s at the top of their game. It’s the best thing John Goodman’s done in a while, it’s the best thing Alan Arkin’s done in years, and if Breaking Bad wasn’t so goddamn phenomenal, I could easily say the same for Bryan Cranston. Lots of good chemistry here, especially among Goodman, Arkin, and Affleck. Not to mention it has a great eye for detail in respect to capturing the state and appearances of Tehran and Los Angeles in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Shows a real respect for both the source material and the gravity of the situation.

And, interestingly enough, a lot of the things that work with Argo are the same things that worked with The Town. Really sharp dialogue, a compelling story, and a memorable lineup of some bonafide smooth operators that are all brought to life by some top-notch actors. The one big difference is that, not counting those nun costumes and the infamy of Charlestown, there wasn’t much about The Town’s story that separated it from every other heist movie that came before it. As you can probably guess, that’s kind of a non-issue with Argo. Only other movie I can think of that’s even remotely similar is this The Last Shot, and that was straight fiction…and no one really saw it.

The only semi-detractor for me is that when it comes to the final Act, the events in this story feel far more “Hollywoodized” than they probably were in real life. Folks, you will not believe how many nick-of-time close calls they manage to cram into a 30-minute span here. It borders on ridiculous, and for anyone out there who didn’t dig Argo (yes, they do exist), I’m guessing this is the reason why. Granted, I haven’t done my research, and I have no base for comparison as to how things actually went down. However, there’s no effing way they went down like this. Talk about some good timing.

On any other day, this one gripe could tarnish the whole thing. After two Acts that are fueled by what seems like a commitment to authenticity and a believable sense of high stakes urgency, we’re treated to a finale that’s puts the rush above all. But as nitpicky as I can be in hindsight, I truly didn’t care in the moment. These things are generally hard to notice when you’re too busy reminding yourself to breathe. Kids, that third Act is a thrill ride for the ages that’ll make even the snobbiest of snobs bite their nails down to the nubbin. It’s really well structured, the good timing doesn’t feel as awfully convenient as it very well could have, and it’s so easy to overlook considering how invested I was in seeing that mission get accomplished.

On that note, however, the only other semi-detractor, or rather double-edged sword, that I can think of is that for everything it pulls off so well, Argo is a movie on a mission, one that doesn’t leave much room for the deeper things in life. It lays out a problem, lays out a solution, and spends the rest of the movie putting said solution to the test. It’s a simple formula with a simple goal, and though it tries for something more there right at the very end, it doesn’t quite hit home in the way it does on a surface level. But once again, that’s okay. At the very least, it’s a good story about what countries can do when they work together. This is a movie that plays to its strengths, and in turn, its strengths overshadow its shortcomings handily. I mean, honestly, who needs deeper meanings when you’ve got Affleck’s sweet beard to stare at? Can I get an Amen!

Anyway, I’m sure it helped not knowing how things would end, and I’m sure it helped being wildly uneducated on the events that inspired this. I guess we’ll never know how I would have felt about this movie had I done my homework like a good blogger should, but all I know is that, for once, I’m glad I didn’t. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had the pleasure of recommending a movie so willy-nilly to people without the slightest fear of negative repercussions. True, these things are never a guarantee, but I sure dug Argo, and, boy, is there a lot to dig.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2012 2:12 am

    I liked this movie, but not like everybody else. It was good, had a nice attention to detail, and featured a lot of strong performances to-boot, but something just felt missing for me in the end. Maybe because I knew that the story wasn’t going to end the harsh way and because it was obvious where Affleck was going with the story, but either way, I didn’t feel as tense as I should have. Still, for a guy who was pretty much finding himself on the butt of every Hollywood joke known to man about 10 years ago, Affleck has really made a name for himself and I can’t wait to see what else he can pull-off. Good review Aiden.

    • November 27, 2012 8:51 am

      I can imagine that final Act would have been far less of a heart-stopper with the knowledge of how it would end. But I think we can all agree upon the mighty phoenix that is Ben Affleck’s career as of late. Really hope the dude keeps it up. And thanks!

  2. November 26, 2012 7:51 am

    I knew how it was going to end, but even w/ that I was on the edge of my seat.

    Like you I did think the end was Hollywoodized.

    • November 27, 2012 8:52 am

      Glad to hear it. They really went all-out with the time-crunching there, huh?

  3. November 26, 2012 11:08 am

    I really liked the movie — I knew how it was going to end, but I still enjoyed it. Nice review (as usual!)

    • November 27, 2012 8:52 am

      Thanks! Think this is just a tough one not to like, and that’s alright by me.

  4. November 27, 2012 10:14 pm

    I liked the movie, but would have to agree with your views of its ending. The story also takes some liberties so we have to be clear that Argo is Hollywood, not history. It seems Ken Taylor former Canadian embassador to Iran, as well as many Candians did not appreciate Hollywood’s view of Canada as a by stander in those events. I would have to give credit to Ben Affleck for being concerned and request Mr. Taylor to rewrite the movie’s poscript.

    • November 29, 2012 6:37 pm

      Oh yes, liberties were taken, but that’s awesome about Affleck working with Taylor. Hadn’t even heard that, but it’s all class. Glad you liked the movie, it was a good’n alright.

  5. December 14, 2012 6:40 pm

    I thought this was a great year for movies, but I thought this was the best of the year (so far). Funny, suspenseful, well-acted, etc. Affleck gave us a great deal of fun with The Town, but this is his shining glory. If he keeps up this streak of getting progressively better, we’re all in for a treat.

    • January 31, 2013 3:38 pm

      Not surprised in the least to see this cleaning house at the awards ceremonies so far, and chances are it’s going home with Best Picture at the Oscars too. If someone was going to see one movie this year, this had everything they could ask for, regardless of who it was. This is universal quality from front to back, this is some Casino Royale shit, man. A fine pick for your #1, and I’m with you on Affleck. That guy’s on a roll these days.

  6. Sintetanohayparaiso permalink
    February 22, 2013 10:04 am

    Best snore film of 2012! Great start (Embassy) and then just a cheap version of Zero Dark Thrity – Attempt docu.

    Scene 1 ) Embassy, Idiot thinks, he can calm down 250 enraged ppl.
    Scene 2) Introduction of Americansky ppl.
    Scene 3 ) Survivers having a great time at some friends house!
    Scene 4) More talk, about ” WE GOTTA do sumtin!”… ARGH!
    Scene 5) They has a aplan, after talking to some film director
    Scene 6) Rescue them, leave Iran . THE End!

    • February 27, 2013 1:06 pm

      Aw, man. Sorry to hear you didn’t like it. Not sure about that whole cheap Zero Dark Thirty/attempt documentary comparison, but yes, that was kind of how the movie played out. Well, can’t win ’em all, right?


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