Saturday, October 13, 2012
Now I'll tell you what...it's been a long time since I've gotten into a movie as much as I got into Argo. First off, I remember the period vividly, and have some recollection of the incidents it's based on, although I was, of course, misled like everybody else, because most of the story was kept secret. In any case, the movie does an excellent job of setting up the history and depicting the overall milieu---among other things, there are a lot of bangup special effects portraying Tehran, since I can't imagine Affleck and co were allowed to shoot there...in some of the shots, Istanbul's used as a standin, I guess. A lot of actual footage of Iranian demonstrations is worked effectively into the movie, and the events immediately leading up to the takeover of the embassy are succintly but chillingly depicted.
In case you don't know, the story's about how the CIA snuck six US Embassy employees out of Iran after they fled to the Canadian Embassy and took shelter there...don't know exactly how much of it's true, but evidently all the salient stuff is based on the facts. Nothing struck me as especially filmi, except for the climax, maybe. The stratagem that the CIA winds up employing seems absolutely looney, but evidently worked, and truth is frequently stranger then fiction. While Langley and Foggy Bottom are flailing about for a plan, and tossing around a lot of very lousy ideas, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with one that seems, on the surface, to be the battiest of the bunch: invent a fake movie, say that location scouts want to take a look at Tehran, and pull the US personnel out with bogus Canadian identities, using the Hollywood cover story. Even though this is so preposterous, Affleck gets a preliminary okay and goes about setting up a phony production. The movie begins to get seriously funny at this point, as how could it not? He seeks out Planet of the Apes makeup man John Chambers (John Goodman), who puts him onto a movie producer (Alan Arkin, who's great), and they select a cheesy science-fiction script called Argo, which seems to have a vaguely Middle Eastern setting. They have a poster made, commission concept art, take out ads in Variety, and throw press parties attended by actors in ridiculous Flash Gordon-like costumes. Once they've laid this foundation, Affleck goes to Iran, gets permission to scout locations, and gets into the Canadian embassy, where he apprises the endangered Yanks of his plan, which they find pretty ludicrous at first, but eventually accede to, because they really don't have a choice...
Won't summarize the rest, but things are wound up in very extremely suspenseful, satisfying fashion. All the characters are well-drawn, and there isn't a bad performance. The screenplay, by Chris Terrio and Joshua Bearman, is tight, well-constructed and consistently funny...the dialogue is all good. Affleck's direction is very crisp and powerful, and he handles all sorts of material really well. While the movie features a lot of laugh out loud stuff---I was particularly amused by all the science-fiction references, such as Valley of Gwangi posters, and scenes from The Ultimate Warrior ---the paranoia gets pretty acute, and the payoff is a real nail-biter. I fully expect this thing to clean up at the Oscars, and while they're usually an idiotfest, sometimes good movies win. In any case, go right out and see it. I really want it to do well, and there weren't enough people in the audience tonight...it should get dynamite word of mouth, though.