Tuesday 23 October 2012

Review: Argo

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin

Synopsis is here 

Ben Affleck's new crime thriller; Argo, has been racketing a large amount of positive buzz during the London Film Festival and it's more than understandable as to why. Affleck's period piece continues the solid directional work that took place in his Boston crime duo, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Argo is adult, absorbing and features moments so packed with tension it places other thrillers of its ilk to shame. The films latter set pieces are taut, well paced and excellently handled.

The film takes a short while to find its bearings giving us a first act that highlights America at its worst. The slickly executed opening (displayed through storyboards) sets the scene swiftly detailing the messy part the U.S government had with the Iranian revolution. What's that? The U.S government doing some meddling overseas and getting itself into trouble? Seems awful timely...

Parallels to weighty current affairs aside, Argo completely disarmed me with it's screenplay toting a large amount full of witticisms and one liners. Many of the funniest quips stem from one film producer Lester Siegel (an on form and ball busting Alan Arkin), but the film as a whole, is constantly capturing the absurdity of the entire situation and throws it back at the audience as if to say "you couldn't make this up!" To which you realise you couldn't. To a point. The film fictionalises a near preposterous true story. Smuggling hostages out out a hostile country under the pretence that they are working on a movie? There's a fine line between insanity and genius.

There's also a line between a film being an expertly crafted work of tension, and wrecked nerves and a movie falling in on itself. Argo clearly wishes not to take a tumble.  The strength lies in the films final rescue of the hostages. Passport checks suck air from the room and lungs, a "location scout " outing may leave nails embedded in seats. Argo does extremely well at making you feel the stakes. If you had a day to learn a new background and career for yourself, would you be able fool armed security? At nearly every point you feel that one mistake could cost a life. What was ludicrously funny before, suddenly evaporates as real fear sets in. This hair brained scheme must work. The worry is plastered all over the sobering face of Tony Mendez. Affleck's portrayal of Mendez is possibly his best performance. His direction of the narrative, bringing this fear home with so little effort, I believe is one of the best accomplishments of the year.

We can't have everything and while Argo's execution of scenes are at times exemplary, the screenplay has more than a little trouble taking on the vast array of characters. The hostages one are depicted as mere cyphers, while some of the other characters who are integral to their safety seem a little sidelined. As does the shoehorned scenes of Mendez's family. The film also drops much of its political intrigue as it becomes more focused on the job at hand, and we're left with a climax which is a overtly sentimental and a little too self congratulatory.

The hard work however, as already been done and Argo does it's job as tightly wound thriller that many feel America just don't make enough of anymore. It's wears its period well, with a great amount of detail and moves with a swift pace that helps the viewer forget just how streamlined the film becomes. By the time I got on the train back home, Agro started to fade a little from view, but for two hours Affleck manages to land you in those crawl spaces and government offices, and does so as if it wasn't his third film.