Say hello to awards season… the time of year when the studios unload the brilliant and often depressing fare that they’ve been saving up in an effort to snatch a couple golden statues and the prestige such accolades can bring. It’s also a great time to be a movie-goer, particularly in major cities where limited releases live and die. Argo is probably one of the most high profile titles on this season’s slate. Does it start things off with a bang, or is it a ho-hum opening to the “best-of-the-best.”
Brace yourselves. If Argo is any indication… this is going to be an awards season to remember. Based on events surrounding the Iran hostage crisis and the whereabouts of several Americans trapped in a hostile foreign country with no way home, the film walks a fine line between a history lesson and a tightly constructed thriller, serving to both educate and entertain its audience on one of the riskiest civilian rescue operations in the history of the CIA. True story movies can demonstrate the best and worst that the medium has to offer, and luckily for us, Argo is a shining example of cinema at its most powerful, a well-told story delivered in the best possible format. If there was any doubt of Ben Affleck’s prowess as a director, this project will silence the naysayers and place the former Good Will Hunting writer squarely in the big-leagues. I’m excited to see where he goes next.
There are some movies that just need to be shot on film, and I couldn’t be more thankful to see the grain in Argo’s 35mm presentation. The movie is gorgeous to look at, and the archival footage integrates beautifully, adding another layer of context and realism to the proceedings. There’s a very old-time Hollywood feel to the production, and the classic cars and carefully digitally enhanced landscapes of period Los Angeles are vibrant and alive. The use of film terminology and in-jokes will delight your average cinephile, and the quips come fast and furious, particularly when Affleck enlists the help of John Goodman playing a famous Hollywood makeup artist and friend to the CIA. Alan Arkin appears as the producer for the fake movie project the CIA is setting up as a cover to get the Americans out of the country, reminding everyone of just how good his comedic timing is. You’ll find yourself smiling and laughing through a good portion of the film, the calm before the storm.
Once Affleck lands in Iran, things kick into high gear, and the movie never slows down again. Its been awhile since I spent this much time on the edge of my seat, but once you get involved, its hard to take the rest of the movie for granted. If there’s one minor gripe, it’s that we don’t really spend enough time getting to know the fugitives themselves, but as Affleck doesn’t really either, it makes sense that we know only as much as our protagonist. They all seem like good people, and we certainly don’t want to see them hurt, but its more of a general concern and less of a palpable dread. Affleck, on the other hand, is incredibly sympathetic, and its more out of fear for his well-being than anything else that drives the emotional content of the film. Bryan Cranston has a great supporting part as Affleck’s boss back at CIA central, and he really gets a chance to shine in the third act, tearing into his superiors and keeping the mission on track even when it seems like the world is against their success.
Argo is a well-written, well-acted, and well-directed piece of work. There’s not a whole lot more to add. It’s gritty, it’s fast paced, and you’ll come out feeling incredibly satisfied. We’re not very far into fall, but this one has already secured a berth on my 10 best list come January. Where it lands remains to be seen, but it’s hard to believe we’ll see many finer films before the year is out. Do yourself a favor and check this one out. You may have a strong desire to turn on an oldies station on the radio after you’re done. This is perfectly normal, and in my opinion, encouraged.
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