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Friday, November 30, 2012

Argo - Review (2012)


This review is based on a film based on a true story.


As stated above, the film tells the true tale of 6 American diplomats that in the middle of an Irani uprising seek refuge in the Canadian embassy.  They have been held up in the embassy for weeks.  The problem is they have no way out of the country and the Iranis are growing closer to discovering their location, an offense most likely punishable by death.  The CIA decides to run with "the best bad idea we have found so far."   The plan, led by Tony Mendez (Affleck) is to stage a phoney sci-fi film called Argo, to be shot in of all places war torn Iraq.  Affleck will enter the country alone and exit it with the 6 stranded Americans posing as filmmakers. 

Technically the film is sound.  It emulates the look and feel of the thrillers of the 1970's; the color treatment used on the film, the cast's physical appearance and the costumes perfectly matches the era.  Together they help transport you back in time to the era of a more unstable global condition.  Although you can't hold such technical achievements against the film, for my taste it was almost too perfect, too calculated.  The effort to recreate the era can be see on screen and it draws too much attention.  It reminds me of some of the early 3D animated films that received tremendous praise, sure they were good films, but you cannot let the technical aspects weigh too much on your opinion.  What really counts, what will need to stand the test of time is the story telling.

Affleck wrangles in a film of considerable scope; a large cast, multiple locations and several concurrent storylines.  Overall it is a well paced mix of drama with a sprinkles of humor.  He deserves praise for that, but there were some elements that were not as tight.  First off, I did find the antagonists to be a little too Hollywood for me (maybe not as much as the Lybians in "Back to the Future," but still quite one dimensional.)  Secondly, the shifts in tone are a bit abrupt, one scene is being played with intensity, the next for laughs.  At times the levity works, providing a break from the seriousness of the situation; other times it is detrimental to the trepidation of the scene.  This alone is not a huge problem on its own, it is when it is combined with my next criticism that it becomes a real issue.

I came into this film with little knowledge of what it was about, but being told right up front that it was based on a true story established some preconceptions that altered how I watched the film.  In the end the my newly established preconceptions turned out to be correct.  The "Based on a...." tag undermines all the work put into creating what would otherwise be some incredibly tense moments.  The scenes don't carry much weight because they are all leading to what you are probably expecting all due to that one line of text that displayed on the screen in the first five minutes of the film.  The film is about a scheme so far-fetched it seems like fiction.  Why not do something unique - deliver a tense, interesting film but wait until the end to reveal what seemed like fiction was actually based on a true story?  Doing so may cause the audience to be taken back by what they had just seen, while keeping them captivated the whole way through, unsure as to how it will all turn out.  Mr. Affleck, years down the line you will come to the same conclusion.  You can release it as the Director's/FilmSnork's cut.  If you need any more advice, I am available.


Did you ever feel some films (directors) get a free pass because the director makes for a good story?  Ben Affleck who was a punchline just 6 years ago has turned his career around, literally.  He made the move from being in front of the camera to working behind it.  "Argo," has received a good deal of hype and for good reason it is an entertaining film, just not the Oscar worthy film the media would like it to be.  Perhaps I am coming on a little strong.  Maybe Affleck is not getting a free pass to Oscar, just the option to take the escalators instead of the stairs.

Check out his first two films, both of which I prefer to this, "Gone, Baby, Gone" and "The Town."

6.0 out of 10 stars

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