Friday, May 10, 2013

Argo (2012)

To the public eye, one of the most fascinating figures in Hollywood has been Ben Affleck. Unfortunately, I believe the consensus agrees that, for a while, he’s been fascinating in all the wrong ways. His career has been rocky, to say the least. Lemme explain. He started his career in films such as Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. Yet the fascination in Ben Affleck most likely began in 1997. This marked the year that Good Will Hunting was released; a film exalted by critics and won him and co-writer Matt Damon an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I’d like to think that people expected great things to come from him.

With the exception of some Kevin Smith comedies and Shakespeare in Love, people’s expectations were not met. This actor who had so much potential quickly tapered into doing simplistic and unmemorable action films, reviled comedies, and gaining a reputation of hooking up with every chick in Hollywood until John Mayer came along. Affleck had practically abandoned his Oscar potential and turned himself into the commonplace action hero or the incessant crybaby, neither of which the public believed he could believably portray or justify with concrete acting abilities. However, these past couple of years, Ben Affleck’s career has been a rags-to-riches story.

In 2007, he showed how much of a powerhouse he was as a director with the release of Gone Baby Gone. In 2010, he showed how much of an expertise he possessed as being both a director and an actor with the release of The Town. So, clearly he showed that his unimpeachable cinematic craft had never left him. All he needed was that one bulls eye as a artistic thrust into the cementation of him as an excellent filmmaker and for his directing and acting talents to collide head-on.

Argo was that film.

Right from the beginning, he practically beats us over his head with his exceptional composition. After the old-fashioned Warner Bros. logo fades away, which really places up into the time period of the film, Affleck introduces us to the backstory thoroughly, allowing the viewer to comprehend the film and have more of a feel for it. The film is based on a true story and the text that reveals this fact seems to bear an unsettling undertone.

The film takes place in 1979. As the film previously explains, Iran is run by shahs, or kings. In 1941, Reza Pahlavi was appointed as the shah. He was a shah who loved the West (the United States). However, he was overthrown during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. When President Jimmy Carter sheltered Pahlavi (partly to treat him for cancer) in the United States, the Iranians were outraged.

Under the rule of newly appointed shah, Ayatollah Khomeini, Iranians ambushed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. 50 people were taken hostages, but six people escaped and found security and safety in Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor’s house. The U.S. hears of this dreadful situation and CIA exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez, is brought in to help the situation. He’s lost for a legit solution until he finds “inspiration” in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, as opposed to other people who would just be repulsed by it. After watching this, the solution is clear to him: Create a fake science-fiction film, Argo, go to Iran, claiming to scout for locations, grab the hostages, and fly them back to America.

OK. Before I begin with my critique, KNOCK IT OFF! You over-hyping bastards, knock it the hell off. Was it a good movie? Yes. Was it a really good movie? Yes. Once again, I’ll get to that in a minute. But I say this in my most sincere and militant opinion, Argo was not, repeat not, the year’s best picture. To all the critics who call this the best film of the year, isn’t that a little extreme? I mean, I can accept the film critics, but the Oscar for Best Picture? Really? The film was pretty much 2012’s Wag the Dog, except this film was based on true events. It didn’t have the creativity of Beasts of the Southern Wild, it didn’t have the grandiose and theatricality of Les Miserables, it didn’t have the simmering tension and captivating build-up of Zero Dark Thirty, and it certainly didn’t have the expertly executed drama and impeccable character development of my favorite film of 2012, Silver Linings Playbook.

Seeing how I am already on a roll now, I guess I should explain why Argo wasn’t worthy of the Best Picture award. First of all, I discussed earlier of the “impeccable character development of Silver Linings Playbook.” This film doesn’t have nearly as great character development as that film. The characters aren’t bad. Once again, we’ll get to that later. What I am saying is that the characters are not fully-fledged into anything complete. Tony Mendez just seems like the standard government genius (isn’t that an oxymoron). Oh, I forgot the classic cliché that he’s distant from his son and his wife (or, I guess, ex-wife. The movie is pretty vague and convoluted on that aspect). This section of the film is too nonchalant, painfully rushed, and mildly ungainly. He’s not one-dimensional, but not two-dimensional. I guess he’s more in the middle. One-and-a-half dimensional, I guess (boy, that isn’t going to catch on).

Also, the hostages are also flatly written. They’re just banal, uninteresting caricatures just waiting to be saved. Of course, one of them conveniently is literate in Arabic and one of them is the classic wary, hesitant archetype; the only one of the bunch who fits in this description. This, in addition, connects to another reason Argo shouldn’t have won Best Picture. The film, in general, is emotionally inert and distant, in terms of the situation. Thinking of this flaw reminds me of Schindler’s List, a Best Picture winner and one of my favorite films. That film had an obvious opinion and perspective on the Holocaust. The filmmaker was clearly horrified and disgusted by it.

One of the positive aspects I’ve heard in various reviews was that it was “ideologically neutral.” Well, I feel that the neutrality of it is part of the problem. It just doesn’t deliver, totally, on a visceral level. I wouldn’t even have an issue with the neutrality of the film if it didn’t try not to be neutral. The film, as expected, shows scenes of anarchy and terror, seeing how this took place during the Iranian Revolution. However, when these scenes happen, as gut wrenching as they may be on the surface, it, intrinsically, feels studied and agonizingly calculated. It feels as if the filmmakers felt obligated to insert those scenes. I understand the film’s not entirely revolved around the Iranian Revolution, but in order to feel for and buy into the plea of the hostages, it must be viscerally rewarding. It isn’t. Good thinking, Oscars. Sorry that the torment and obstacles of two mentally ill souls who fall in love with each other isn’t as deep as this. God!

However, to continuously rant on the undeserving award this film received would be denying the brilliance of the film. The cinematography is vibrant and pristine, complete with an incredible overhead shot that made me feel like I was floating in mid-air. While the hostages aren’t developed with any sort of finesse, seeing them in the process of getting on the plane (C’mon. Everyone knows it ends happily) is unbearably tense and seeing the plane take off was inspiring and expertly done. The combination of the actual film with real news footage from the 1970s is brilliant, sonorous, and evocative. And in the film’s coda, the credits placed over science-fiction memorabilia and use of sparse music is alternately shrewd and solemn, ironic and grave.

In addition, the performances are excellent. While Ben Affleck isn’t given much meat on his character, he does give a very good performance. Bryan Cranston ditches his meth lab from Breaking Bad and gives a strong performance as Mendez’ supervisor, Jack O’Donnell. John Goodman is very good as the gruff, mordant John Chambers, a make-up artist, and Alan Arkin simply shines as the cynical, wry producer, who delivers a joke relating to the film’s title that it’s heavily quoted within my film class.

The bottom line is: Argo works. It is a very well made movie. It works as a thriller, a comedy, a love letter and a middle finger to Hollywood. However, I am still persistent in my belief that the acceptance of the Best Picture Oscar by the film was incorrect. Was the film, at least, worth being nominated? Definitely. I mean, what other nominee options were there? Breaking Dawn: Part 2? Over my dead body!

RATING: Three and a half stars out of four

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