I'd like to spank the Academy

Argo (2012)

Directed by Ben Affleck

Okay, so argoit’s been awhile again. Apparently, because I wrote about my depression and how it was doing so much better in my Silver Linings Playbook post, my depression decided to remind me how powerful it actually can be. So yeah. Sorry if you’ve been waiting and hoping and wishing for my Argo review and my wrap-up of 2012; I’ve been trying not to slit my wrists. But at least I’ve been successful!

As I said in my Zero Dark Thirty review, I was excited for the 2012 movies because I got to watch two action movies that had been nominated for best picture. But just like Zero Dark Thirty, Argo is also not an action movie. It’s exciting, and it’s fun, and it has wonderfully tense moments, but it’s not an action movie. I think I might have watched the only action movie ever nominated when I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. Argo is a fantastic movie, and I truly enjoyed it, but it’s not an action movie. It was also weird watching it on the heels of Zero Dark Thirty because they are so similar. Both movies are more spy film than action flick, both are based on true stories, both take place in the Middle East, both even have Kyle Chandler. So while I recommend seeing both films, don’t watch them back to back.

So what’s the story? During the takeover of the American embassy in Iran in 1979, six Americans manage to escape to the home of the Canadian ambassador. As the occupation of the embassy drags on, the U.S. government tries frantically to come up with an idea to get the six out before the Iranians realize that they aren’t in the embassy with the other civil servants they have taken hostage. Tony Mendez, a CIA officer whose job is extracting people from bad situations, finally comes up with “the best bad idea”—produce a fake movie, complete with screenplay, casting, and movie posters. He will then fly to Iran to “scout locations” and fly back with the six Americans as members of the production company. It’s a risky plan; can they pull it off?

The Good: I don’t know the term for what I’m about to admire, but I love that Argo looks like a movie from the late seventies or early eighties. The film quality is grainier, less sharp than current movies. No high definition here! I liked that the old Warner Brothers logo was used at the beginning of the film, too. It was a small thing, but helped set the tone for the movie.

Argo was a well-cast film. Everyone from Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez to John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers to Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s boss, Jack O’Donnell was fantastic. I was especially glad to see Victor Garber playing a sympathetic character (the Canadian ambassador) for once. He seems like the nicest man, but in the movies I’ve seen him in, his characters are always jerks (Mayor Shinn in The Music Man, the lecherous professor in Legally Blond, the money-grubbing lawyer in Eli Stone). Alan Arkin is a delight as the “producer” of Mendez’s movie, and the people playing the six non-hostages were also good. I didn’t feel like there was a false note in the casting.

The pacing of the movie was great. The director managed to keep the feeling of a lot of time going by balanced with the tension of having to get the people out. It would have been very easy to err in either direction – either with the movie dragging as the hostages stayed inside for months, or with the action happening too quickly to be believable.

Even though I feel like I know more about history than the average American, I didn’t know much about the Iran Hostage Crisis. We didn’t tend to get to more recent things in any of my history classes just because there was so much to cover in a year, and I wasn’t alive when it actually happened, so I appreciated the overview of the modern history of Iran at the beginning. Some of the movie wouldn’t have made sense without that background.

Alexandre Desplat’s score was a haunting, beautiful mix of Middle Eastern and Western music. It was subtle enough to underscore the drama of the situation without being overwhelming.

The Bad: While the casting was all good, I had a hard time keeping the six escapees straight. They didn’t get enough screen time for the viewers to understand their characters, so they all kind of blended together. I would have liked to have seen more of John Goodman and Alan Arkin and the Hollywood end of things, also. I feel like a lot of that was glossed over to give Ben Affleck more screen time and make Mendez seem more heroic.

Because I put off writing this review, I had to watch Argo twice in order to feel like I could give it an honest, helpful review. The first time, I loved it. It was one of those moments when you want to tell everyone you know that they should see it. A few weeks later, when I saw it for the second time, I just couldn’t get into it. I already knew what was going to happen, so there was no tension for me. This seems to be a flaw in the movie, but I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t care so much the second time around. It might be because I felt no connection to the characters; I’m not sure. But I feel like a movie that is named the best picture of the year should be able to be enjoyed more than once.

The Ugly: I didn’t find anything bad enough about Argo to be in this category. It’s flaws were minor.

Oscars Won: Best motion picture of the year; best writing, adapted screenplay; best achievement in film editing.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best performance by an actor in a supporting role (Alan Arkin); best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original score; best achievement in sound mixing; best achievement in sound editing.

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