Wednesday, 17 October 2012

LFF: Argo Review

Director: Ben Affleck

Writer: Chris Terrio, Joshuah Bearman (original article)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Shoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Kyle Chandler

Plot: After the American coup d’├ętat of the Iranian government in 1968, Iranian civilians revolt and hold several American embassy workers hostage. 6 escape and hold up, secretly, in the Canadian embassy. As their sanctuary becomes compromised it’s up to the CIA and one agent’s hare-brained scheme to get them out.

In some circles it’s known as the “McTiernan run” – three consecutive films wildly popular, highly regarded and sudden classics. Based on John McTiernan’s trio of grade-A films – Predator in 1987, Die Hard in 1988 and The Hunt for Red October in 1990 – the film-critic category is something to be favoured for those understanding the reference. Ben Affleck has just been added to the group, scoring a hattrick with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and new-release, Argo. Affleck always suffered some criticism with parts in Pearl Harbour and Jersey Girl though his move into directing has left him invulnerable to any further attacks. The man has clearly found his better calling and whilst he still acts (and decently, for that matter), his skill in the business is quite clearly calling the shots.

Affleck didn’t exactly need to mature with new project choices as Gone Baby Gone and The Town were equally profound and tough movies to make, yet he has not backed down in spotlighting his knack for storytelling. Behind and in front of the camera, Affleck is a commanding presence though never in an egotistical manner. In fact, Argo seems him as the lead but a quiet and restrained one at that. The main pull for the film are Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Scoot McNairy who superbly support Affleck’s efforts as the protagonist. Most of the elements fit together wonderfully and if any criticism is to be made its the middle part of the film has less input from the characters of Cranston, Arkin and Goodman than what would be desired. As Affleck’s Dave travels off to Iran, all three are left behind in the States to manage the mission from home turf. When we see a more balanced set of storylines (cutting back and forth between Dave abroad and the CIA and Hollywood personnel) the film seems gloriously energised but the occasional departure of this formula does drain the film of some drama.

Slight flaws can be excused for the sheer satisfaction you get from watching Argo. The plot almost seems overtly ridiculous but you must remind yourself of the “based on a true story” subtitle at the very beginning. Few alterations have been made to this extraordinary story and all the way through you sit there in stupefaction at the bravado of the plan. Even as you may know how the story ends –  with it being a semi-autobiographical representation – the tension never wanes one bit.

As a film and a movie – to study and enjoy – it can please on all levels. Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous; with Affleck referencing the classic 70s political thrillers (i.e. All The President’s Men and The China Syndrome) and enhancing that idea by shooting on regular film and magnifying it widescreen in age of digital presentation. Soundtrack would be up to par with the visuals were it not for some non-diegetic tracks getting cut short (The Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” being one example) and a score that has little to add to the already-fantastic sound of the snappy dialogue. More often than not, every part of Argo is polished, demonstrating Affleck’s natural gift for crafting a film.

Argo is a pure triumph in every way; expertly written, directed and acted. Unexpectedly hilarious at points, making it not only intriguing and compelling, put amusing too (“It’s the best bad idea we have” is one example in a flurry of laugh-out-loud lines). All recognition must go towards Affleck who compiled a top- troupe of cast and crew without making it a display in blowing one’s own trumpet. Affleck knows what works and the finale of the film greatly advertises that notion. Cinematography and editing is tremendous throughout but by the end it’s in a whole different league – awards-worthy directorial technique. You leave Argo astonished by what you have seen and completely in awe of the cast and crew’s proficient contribution to filmmaking.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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