REVIEW: 'Argo' - Tensionism

© 2012 Warner Bros. Ent.
So a representative reached out to me and asked if I would like to attend an early press screening of Ben Affleck's new directorial/starring feature, "Argo". It's based off the declassified Iranian event that took place in between 1979 and 1980 when a group of American diplomats, working within their embassy, fled due to local rioting. Also known at the time as the great "Canadian Caper". Of course I went, because 1.) It's Free! 2.) It's a drama that I was planning to see anyway! and 3.) It's FREE! So far Ben Affleck's ability to capture honest portrayals of drama has always been refreshing... even though it only comes around about once every 2 to 3 years. When he directed his brother in "Gone, Baby, Gone"; it was an incredible debut. When he shot something closer to his setting like 2010's "The Town", he won me over again (more so visually but you know)... now let me tell you how he did with Argo, after the jump.

Fair warning to everyone reading this here review... I'm not going to spoil anything that's beyond the initial theatrical trailer. Although people a little older than me might understand this movie and know exactly what happened (historically) because it was declassified under President Clinton in 1997, or people way older than me might remember when all this went down and were friggin' shocked that it wasn't all of Canada's doing in 1997. Regardless, I look at movies as movies; and even people my age have no damned clue what this movie is about. So I'm going to refrain from delving further than I typically do; even if it's closely based on true events.  By the way... Titanic was just a movie. You're all crazy...

First off, at the beginning of this movie... there is a quick prologue describing all the events leading up to Argo... they do so in these still animated frames which don't really make sense until later on. But without this knowledge, the movie would be lost... and I look at this as an attempt to seem timeless and I, as a viewer, appreciate when films do this. Where as, if you would watch "Casablanca" and know next to jack about World War II... you would be confused about a large portion of the film. It's indeed a masterful flick, but it can be difficult to understand for later generations.

The premise is this; Ben Affleck plays a CIA agent by the name of Tony Mendez who goes undercover as a Canadian Producer looking to scout a filming location for his new project, "Argo". The goal is to get him into Iran, and walk out with the six basically cornered American diplomats while each are posing as different parts of a film crew. The cast is extremely well rounded but overall... it's a Ben Affleck show from beginning til end. It's actually his first film where he chose to be the primary star and it's not a bad subject to capitalize on. You also have Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and the surprisingly comedic Alan Arkin as overwhelmingly great supporters. I at times felt they did a better job than he did.

Now when I spoke of timelessness... this movie is as accurate of a period piece as any with how much they played around with. Never did I feel a prop was out of place, hair or clothing mismatched from that era, or lingo too modern. I tend to catch things like that but Affleck and crew did a fantastic of grasping what a late 70's/early 80's production would look like. Since a main element of the plot is to get a fake movie together (a science fiction tale called 'Argo') for the purpose to pose as a film crew within Iran... one would think they would toss in all these incredible late 70's gags and reference... they did, but it wasn't forced. Just appropriately recognizable and without really saying a word.

Moving on... I have to say that I'm entirely unfamiliar with the writer "Chris Terrio" but there is a witty energy within this script. I can't tell if it's off the cuff improv or straight line reads but the rapid fire comedic takes were quite a surprise and hit the target every time. I would even say there is a strange mix of tones between drama, thriller, and heist(ish) make the jokes feel completely out of place but in real life, which this movie is imitating, being funny is natural and these jokes feel as such.

I also would like to tip my hat towards the editing room (or maybe this was the director's choice)... there is a scene... seemingly out of place and unorthodox (even to the plot)... it makes you want to laugh or wonder what the hell you're watching. It's a very "Hollywood" (though I believe it takes place in Vegas) kind of scene but they spliced it together with another powerfully deep minded collage of fear reminding us that even though all this is going on for a reason. This movie has a purpose.

Anyone into slow burning drama/thrillers. It's hard to compare to anything else with this setting on this subject  because honestly... Hollywood doesn't make non-action-y movies set in the Middle East. They just don't... and it's so refreshing because of that. Also what I'm most proud of... is that this is NOT a patriotic film. It supports America without tooting it's damn horn. It at times shines a poor light on us or at least some of our citizens. I kinda dug that.

Is this film "theater worthy"?:
If I could say anything about Argo... it's that there is so many moments with heightened levels of tension that it made my teeth hurt. Maybe I was "in-too-deep" or shouldn't have had that milkshake right before the movie started but it was worth it and satisfying  And a major part of that was because of watching it on the big screen. It doesn't require a theater viewing but the sound design lends itself to it.

My final thoughts:
As you can tell, I didn't really say anything terrible (or at all) negative about Argo. It does have it's fair share of problems. The pacing is to long and at the same time, it didn't feel like 120 minutes passed when it was over. It was like my body was fighting against me the entire time. "Oh man, they're gonna get caught" *10 minutes pass without notice* "Now they're just talking" *5 minutes pass but it felt like 10*. Also some of the characters became an afterthought; even though you've been watching them this entire time; the only thing I felt was sympathy, no real connection. I guess that is similar to a documentary.

Anyway, I believe Argo is solid entry in Affleck's career and accomplishes everything it was set out to do... and with it following the most recent embassy attacks in Libya, it puts a lot of things into perspective. It hits close to home and it pays off in a big way.

Slamfist Rating: 9 out of 10

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