Thursday, February 21, 2013


So what's the big deal about Argo?  Aside from the fact that it sounds like something a pirate might say, I mean.  Argo is one of those movies that wears its "based on a true story" claim as a badge of honor.  There are two types of movies that push claims like that: movies that want to be capital "I" Important and movies that are so unbelievable that they have to legitimize themselves by pointing out that the unbelievable sometimes actually happens.  Which is Argo?  A little from column A, a little from column B.

When the American embassy in Iran was invaded in 1979, there were six embassy employees that managed to sneak out and avoid being part of the Iran hostage crisis.  They weren't able to leave the country, though.  Every Westerner (or, I guess, anybody looking American) was closely monitored and security in and out of the country was multiplied.  The six escapees managed to find shelter with the Canadian ambassador (), but they couldn't go anywhere or do anything, or else they would risk becoming hostages and probably being executed.  To make matters worse, circumstances (or the plot) dictate that the escapees have to leave soon or not at all.  That's where Tony Mendez () comes in.  When all other half-baked, dumb-ass ideas for getting those people out of Iran appear doomed for failure, Tony comes up with something ambitious and outlandish --- although it is still a pretty awful idea.
These are the faces of men smelling shitty ideas
Tony wants to pass these six people off as part of a film crew, because everyone knows that Hollywood is full of complete jackasses who eat up stupid ideas, like filming a movie in we-have-American-hostages-era Iran.  Like all cover stories and identities, this needs to be able to pass the sniff test in case anybody doubts their claims.  That means that Tony needs to create a fake movie.
"Should we make a Reindeer Games or Gigli joke?"
To do that, he needs help from some Hollywood types ( and ) to convince Hollywood that a terrible science fiction movie called "Argo" (that should be filmed in Iran) is actually in production.  If they can convince Hollywood, they should be able to convince Iranian militants, right?  Once all that is done, all they have to do is confidently sneak six Americans out of the country while lying their asses off.  Piece of cake.
"Hello, do you have any unmonitored or under-guarded ways out of this lovely country?"

Argo is definitely the work of an ensemble cast.  Ben Affleck is on all the posters and gets the majority of the acclaim for this movie, thanks to his direction, but there are no star roles here.  is good and understated as a CIA operative that specializes in getting people out of bad places.  While he is the main character, the star of this movie is the plot, so all of the actors are basically playing character roles.  This is probably my favorite movie role to date, if only because he had multiple dimensions.  was clearly having fun lampooning Hollywood, but the best supporting actor in this cast was definitely , who...well, I guess he did more or less the same thing as Goodman, but crankier.  They were both fun to watch and helped balance out the rest of the film, especially with their "Argo fuck yourself" bit.  The rest of the cast was made up of recognizable actors in uncomplicated or tiny roles.  , , , , , , , and all lent their presence to this movie more than any particular acting skills.
Look at this crap.  They haven't even memorized their lines!
It is nice to see Chandler getting work in high-profile movies, but he (and Bryan Cranston) needs meatier roles to show off his talent.  Of the six not-hostages, was the only one that actually developed as the movie progressed.  Of course, that was because he was the obstinate jerk character, but I still thought McNairy was pretty good.

Argo is the third movie directed by Ben Affleck, and the first one set outside of Boston.  This is also his first attempt at something that isn't a crime story.  Affleck's biggest impact on Argo is the sense of urgency.  The pacing in this movie is excellent, especially in the second half.  That is remarkable, considering that this is, at its core, a movie about people waiting to go to the airport.
It's hard to gauge how well Affleck directs the actors, since this movie is so plot-driven.  I guess he was fine in that regard, since everyone played their parts decently.  The other aspect of the film that I was impressed with was the production design.  Granted, it can't be that hard to re-create 1979 in Hollywood, but the side-by-side comparisons between the real-life people and places and the stuff in the movie was eerily accurate.  Attention to detail is important in all movies, but realizing just how much effort went into duplicating every single thing on the screen made me wonder what little things I took for granted in this film.
The actual magazine ad for "Argo" in the Hollywood Reporter

Argo is a tense, funny, and generally entertaining film that has a little more gravitas because it is based on true events.  How accurate is this movie?  With a few minutes of research, I would say "fairly," with most of the liberties being taken for pacing reasons.   I've seen and heard a few comments about the subject matter of Argo (with the least nutty objection coming from Daniel Tosh), and I see their point.  Why make a movie about the six people who were not held hostage and tortured?  Probably because the US and Canada didn't team up to fake a goofy movie as a means to sneak out the 50-odd hostages.  Argo is a good movie, and is one of the better true-life adaptations I have seen in a while.  It is missing performances that will draw me back to it, but I am now fully on board with Ben Affleck (the director). 

If you're interested in the back story on this script, it appears that comic book legend Jack Kirby did a number of concept drawings for the movie-that-never-was.  Cool stuff.

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