Argo Wins & Satisfies But…

We gondola-ed down from the Argo screening at the top of the mountain, but it took a while and by the time we got to the Masons theatre, the 4:30 pm screening of Dror Moreh‘s The Gatekeepers — one of the big buzz films so far — was sold out and locked down. So we sauntered over to a coffee cafe so I could write a little something about Argo.

Ben Affleck‘s period drama, set during the 1979 and ’80 Iran hostage crisis and based on fact, is a partly light-hearted, partly riveting drama about a kind of Mission Impossible scam about smuggling six American foreign-service workers who had taken shelter in Tehran’s Canadian embassy after the storming of the U.S. embassy and the taking of hostages.

An enterprising CIA guy named Tony Mendez (Affleck) devises a plan to hoodwink Iranian officials into believing that these six are filmmakers looking to use Iranian locations for a cheesy-sounding sci-fi film called Argo that is, of course, fake.

Argo starts out as a somber docu-drama, and then shifts into a kind of flip jocular vein (especially with the appearance of John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a couple of exploitation producers who assist Afleck in creating the backstory for the phony film), and then somber again and then sad and then revved again and then really, really tense.

In short, it’s smart and absorbing for first two-thirds to three-quarters, but it’s the suspenseful final act that brings it home.

Argo delivers superb period detail all the way through — technology, cars, clothes, haircuts, everything.

Affleck’s direction is clean and concise and doesn’t waste time or footage. The screenplay by Chris Terrio is aces. And the cast hits nothing but true notes — Affleck as Mendez, Bryan Cranston as his CIA boss, Arkin and Goodman as the producers, Victor Garber as Iran’s Canadian ambassador who protected the six when they were hiding in his residence, and Kyle Chandler as the late Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter‘s chief of staff.

Somebody tweeted “instant Best Picture contender!” after it was over. Really? Brilliantly suspenseful as the last act is, Argo, boiled down, is just a clever, well-jiggered caper film. Hats off but why does it have to be a Best Picture contender? A story well told and highly suspenseful, for sure, but there’s no thematic undertow, no metaphor tug — nothing more than “this is what really happened, and wasn’t it cool that the CIA pulled this off?” Yes, it was cool…but Best Picture contenders are about common chords and universality and shared emotional discovery, and that is not what Argo is up to.

Well, somewhat at the end because it’s nice to see a tough situation resolved through ingenuity and guts, but it’s not really a Best Picture contender for the ages. It’s a good, smart, satisfying adult thriller — why isn’t that enough?

  • moviewatcher

    Juno and The Ides of March deserved to be nominated for best picture (the latter didn’t get nominated) because they are very good stories very well told. It’s very hard to do a great movie which doesn’t rely on themes and metaphors and is merely a very good story very well told, but is still a great movie. And that should be commended. It’s no coincidence that juno, Ides of march and argo are either portraits of a real-life social/political situation or historical dramas.

  • The Dude

    “there’s no thematic undertow, no metaphor tug”

    Since when has this become a requirement? Half of the BP nominees over the past several years have neither of these things, or people claim that they exist when they don’t.

    I’ve seen Argo, and I am fairly confident it will end up being a BP nominee. I can also see Affleck getting a directing nomination. Acting wise, there are solid performances across the board, although I don’t think anyone stands out enough to get nominated. Screenplay is a huge possibility, as is editing. I just think it’s a cut above any other thriller being released nowadays, and I think the academy will reward it.

    Argo may not be a conventional nominee, but it’s going to be refreshing when it gets one to relieve us from the string of bland nominees we’ve been getting over the past several years. Something that is expertly crafted, well-acted, well-directed, well-written, incredibly tense, and entertaining is much more deserving of a nomination than something that thinks it’s important but isn’t.

  • moviewatcher

    The Dude: What did you think of Bryan Cranston.

    Tell me your name isn’t a reference to The Big Lebowski…

  • jery

    In 40 years, icon Ben Affleck will be giving a rambling speech at the 2052 RNC Convention.

  • Watcher Of The Skies

    Judging from Wells tepid review (it can’t be called Praise at all), if this picture pics up awards steam and wins a few, it will become Wells target for takedown this Oscar season. You’ve been warned, Mr. Affleck.

    (I can’t wait to see it myself)

  • Glenn Kenny

    “While I really enjoyed [title of movie] it didn’t have enough [arbitrarily invoked thematic characteristic] to qualify for [an award that I more often than not bring up only to rue its meaninglessness].”

  • DuluozGray

    Affleck is a decisive 0-2 as a director. Any doubt he’ll make it 0-3?

  • Jericho Cane

    “Hats off but why does it have to be a Best Picture contender?”

    OSCAR OSCAR OSCAR. Why does it matter if some group of industry people wants to give it some arbitrary award next year? Your psychotic fixation on the fucking Oscars makes my head spin.

  • Daviddb

    I thought John Goodman was playing makeup artist John Chambers who designed the ape masks in the original Planet of the Apes. So now he’s playing a producer?

  • GeorgePrager

    How is Affleck a decisive 0-2 as a director? His two films were critical and commercial successes. It’s like saying Willie Mays was a lousy ballplayer.

  • GeorgePrager

    Which makes me think that DeeZee would be the most hilarious sports fan ever. Just think of the comments he would leave in a sports site.

  • DuluozGray

    Prager, I can’t speak for the awful, inexplicable taste of critics or the public.

    Gone baby Gone was standard, not good, not bad, just whatever. Which is a terrible thing for a film.

    The Town was just plain awful. Terrible terrible terrible script, bad casting, bad acting, boring, predictable. The praise given to that movie is an enduring mystery, as it’s barely above DTV quality. Just a silly film.

  • Eloi Wrath

    Is this not precisely the kind of film that the Academy will go nuts for?

    1. Popular actor (and Academy Award winning writer) turned director.
    2. Old-fashioned caper.
    3. Period setting.
    4. All about the movie industry.
    5. Vaguely political.
    6. Ensemble cast of much-loved actors.

    It is pretty much guaranteed to be nominated, and will probably win – but yes, it’s funny to see Jeff anoint this as this year’s King’s Speech, getting in the way of his inevitable favourite – Biggy-Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty.

  • Still Ray

    “Somebody tweeted “instant Best Picture contender!” after it was over. Really? Brilliantly suspenseful as the last act is, Argo, boiled down, is just a clever, well-jiggered caper film. Hats off but why does it have to be a Best Picture contender?”

    Haven’t seen Argo, but that sounds like both Gone, Baby Gone and The Town, both movies which I really enjoyed but that’s it.

    Of course UNLIKE Jeff, I’m PERFECTLY FINE with really enjoying movies, rather than parsing their worth by what meaningless bribery-bought awards they win from some industry event.

  • Still Ray

    “It is pretty much guaranteed to be nominated, and will probably win – but yes, it’s funny to see Jeff anoint this as this year’s King’s Speech, getting in the way of his inevitable favourite – Biggy-Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty.”

    The more I hear about Zero Dark Thirty the more I’m on the ANTI-bandwagon for that movie.

    Not that I don’t think the movie will be excellent in its own way, but because the more the story comes out about the raid from this SEAL book, the more it becomes obvious that the COOLEST MOVIE EVER!I!I! is going to be the most anticlimactic movie ever. There was no firefight, there was no big whup…. Osama died like a complete and utter bitch, THANK GOD, but a riveting rousing action-movie ending does not that make.

    I would give $50 to read the original shooting script for Zero Dark Thirty and see if they have to change it / do reshoots…..

  • erniesouchak

    Hated “GBG” & “The Town,” but “Argo” works, and it works well. Don’t underestimate the script, which is sharp. It’s the kind of good adult drama that Hollywood hardly ever spends money on anymore.

  • DuluozGray

    erniesouchak, I may have to give it a shot then considering you are correct on Affleck’s first two directorial outings.

  • Pinko Punko

    GBG was 2/3rds hit 1/3 miss, so not terrible. The Town was entertaining and was what it was, so Affleck is 1.45/2.

  • tyjagi

    IMO these are the likeliest Picture nomiess:

    Argo
    Lincoln
    Les Miserables
    The Master
    Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Anna Karenina
    Amour
    Life of Pi
    Zero Dark Thirty
    Promised Land

    ALTERNATES OR DARK HORSES: Hyde Park on Hudson, Moonrise Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises, The Impossible

  • Albert Starling

    “OSCAR OSCAR OSCAR. Why does it matter if some group of industry people wants to give it some arbitrary award next year? Your psychotic fixation on the fucking Oscars makes my head spin.”

    – Jericho, it’s not really that strange. Part of the focus of this site is the build up to the Oscars each year. Jeff is (quite rightly) unapologetic about that. So when a film like this comes along, of course one of the questions raised is whether it will be part of that conversation. There really isn’t anything to complain about here.

  • Raising_Kaned

    OSCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH — who’s it gonna be this year? Who’s. It. Gonna. BE?

    It’s now officially September, so of course it’s not too early to begin thinking intently over this very pressing & important matter.

    I’ve got Project X as this year’s odds-on-favorite (although I concede I’m not 100% sure about this bookie — he usually handles my Eagles bets).

  • Jack Razor

    Affleck always come off as someone who has a high opinion of himself. And this progect feels so Oscar-bait. He’s like a second-rate Clooney.

  • Chris Willman

    Pretty much everything Jeff is saying about this one is correct. It’s a well-done popcorn movie. No one needs to worry about it winning best picture.

  • Jesse Crall

    “Affleck always come off as someone who has a high opinion of himself.”

    Yeah, and all the dumbfuck ever did was win an Oscar, make tens of millions of dollars as a movie star, direct 3 acclaimed films, and have children with Jennifer Garner. Arrogant fuck should be humbling himself before the rest of us champs.

  • Alexander

    “It is pretty much guaranteed to be nominated, and will probably win…”

    Probably win Best Picture, Eloi? If that is what you mean, isn’t it a little presumptuous to consider it the frontrunner with so many high-profile films unseen? Simply asking…

    As a separate point, I can’t believe how every year so many let themselves get wrapped in what will or will not win at the Oscars. I can barely remember who or what won this year. What was the last year for the Oscars? I’d say the year No Country for Old Men took home a bunch of statues. Go figure, one of the better years for film sets up one of the better years for Oscar in quite some time.

    Argo sounds like a fun time at the movies for adults. Interestingly, both Argo and Flight seem like the kind of mainstream adult movies we used to find plentiful in number from Hollywood in the 1990s, let’s say. From afar and unseen by me, anyway.

  • Jericho Cane

    You have a good point, Starling. I just could give so much less than a fuck about the Oscar race.

  • dharth presley

    “…but it’s not really a Best Picture contender for the ages. It’s a good, smart, satisfying adult thriller — why isn’t that enough?”

    Why? Because of Oscar Balloon and all the rabid focus on Best Best Best awards here and all over entertainment media. You want it to be enough? Shift your professional focus and refrain from all the Oscar focus. Starve the beast.

  • Jack Razor

    Don’t worry Mr. Crall, Ben won’t invite you to his birthday bash. Notice I didn’t say the same about Clooney or other talents. So it doesn’t matter if he gets nominated and fucks Jennifer Gardner. Unreal to see geeks take it so personal when fictional people are attacked. Seems like your parents should have pulled you out of these “Lifestyle of the Richs and Famous” episodes.

  • moviesquad

    It’s finally clear that the whole point of the three seasons of Project Greenlight was to be a sort of training grounds for Affleck to learn as much about directing as possible through other peoples mishaps.

    Are any of the three selected directors from that show still working today?

  • Jericho Cane

    John Gulager just graced the world with the immortal masterpiece PIRANHA 3DD. And that’s about it.

  • Gussie Finknottle

    So Jack Razor thinks Ben Affleck is a ‘fictional person’. I suppose that would explain the glorious debut, woeful mid-carrer slump and celebrated comeback as an accomplished actor/director-it was just a script writer providing him with a compelling character arc!

  • http://cinemmaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

    With paucity of good thrillers nowdays … especially in the Oscar contender list for many years now will help Argo sneak through into nominations .. afterall wan’t The Town in race till the last moment … nd by the looks of it Argo is more universal in theme … with nations nd politics involved … I believe it will get nominated !!

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