Movie Review: Argo

Argo is one of those movies that I would recommend to basically everybody.  It has the tension, excitement, humor, and historical fun that makes it a near universal experience.  It’s the kind of movie I can comfortably say to my family, friends, co-workers, the cashier at Staples, the guy fixing my toilet, the old guy who does exercises in my apartment hallway, and the teenager who took my order at White Castle; “go see this movie, you’ll like it”.  If theaters sold tickets to dogs, I’d even tell that golden retriever across the street to check it out.  It’s a welcome change from having to say to people “Drive is one of the best movies of the last decade, oh, but I don’t think you’ll enjoy it…”

Telling the true story of the CIA devising a plan to make a fake movie called Argo in order to get some hostages out of Iran, despite knowing what the outcome is (SPOILER ALERT: Daniel Day-Lewis dies at the end of Lincoln), the film is still an amazing display of tension.  I don’t care if the entire reason the movie was made was because the operation was obviously a unique success, I still felt like the protagonists *weren’t* going to make it at every turn.

This movie has a lot going on.  It’s part historical drama, with archival news footage being mixed in with the regular footage.  It’s part satirical comedy about Hollywood, by poking fun at how making a fake bad movie is more meaningful than making an actual bad one.  And it’s part political espionage thriller, with lots of entertaining CIA fast talking.  Did Argo remind anyone else of Wag the Dog?

The characterizations weren’t really fleshed out, but they didn’t exactly need to be.  They all got about the minimum amount of development to make me care about them.  The only guy who really got heavier treatment was Ben Affleck’s main character, and even that was kind of slim.  But I didn’t take this as a character driven movie to be honest, it was much more focused on the operation itself.

Perhaps the greatest thing this film has going for it is that there are essentially NO side stories.  It’s the anti-clutter film.  The movie has one story, one goal, and it doesn’t dance around it.  They tease Ben Affleck’s son as a potential side story, but you never learn anything specific about the kid.  He serves his purpose for the story, and then gets pushed aside for more interesting things.  The pacing of this film was flawless.  It started out with a brief history lesson of Iran, told through storyboards (pretty neat way to catch people up on history.  I’m not a scholar on Iranian dictatorships), and then just flows the action out perfectly.  The movie felt like it was 80 minutes long because it just flies by.  And the climactic action had me actually sitting upright in the theater (I’m normally a slouch).  It’s gloriously tense.

The cast was good.  The hostages displayed the correct amount of panic.  There was, of course, one dickbag hostage who didn’t want to play along, and his annoyance was on the brink of cliché.  But then he sort of validates his character later on.  John Goodman and Alan Arkin (almost wrote Alan Alda) are fun as the film’s comic relief; as the two Hollywood producers who set up Argo for the government.  Over on the CIA side, Bryan Cranston acts his balls off in the 10 minutes of screen time they give him.  One of the best beverage container slaps off of a table I’ve seen since Kramer vs Kramer.

I don’t think Ben Affleck will win a best actor award for this film, in fact, his character was a little too low-key to even validate a nomination, in my opinion.  But his direction is worthy of a lot of praise.  And they give out an Academy Award for Kickass Beard, right?  Because his beard was awesome.

I can tell that I probably won’t like Argo as much as I did last night when I watch it a second time.  But the first viewing was spectacular.  It’s one of those movies that is completely entertaining and very riveting, even if it’s nothing groundbreaking.  We’ve seen political dramas set in the 1970s before.  But simply what separates Argo from the rest of the forgettable turds is that it’s a million times more entertaining than something like Frost/Nixon.

(and stick around for the credits, they have some neat pictures from the actual situation, and a great speech from Jimmy Carter on diplomacy!  Yay, diplomacy!)

9 out of 10

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