Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: "Argo" is Indeed a Best Picture

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 30 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Argo (2012)
Running time: 120 minutes (2 hours)
MPAA – R for language and some violent images
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
WRITER: Chris Terrio (based on the book, The Master of Disguise, by Antonio J. Mendez and the article, “Escape from Tehran,” by Joshuah Bearman)
PRODUCERS: Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: William Goldenberg
COMPOSER: Alexandre Desplat
Academy Award winner


Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Shelia Vand, Richard Kind, Michael Parks, Adrienne Barbeau, and Mark Rhino Smith

Argo is a 2012 thriller and historical drama directed by Ben Affleck, who also plays the lead role and is one of the film’s three producers. Argo is based upon two sources: the book, The Master of Disguise, by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired magazine article, “Escape from Tehran,” by Joshuah Bearman. The film dramatizes a real-life event – the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

At the 85th Academy Awards (February 24, 2013), Argo won the Oscar for “Best Picture.” It is not my pick for best picture of the year (which I still think is Django Unchained), but it is not far behind. Argo is not only one of the greatest American thriller films ever made, but it is also a joy to watch.

Argo opens on November 4, 1979 at the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran. Militants and protestors storm the embassy and take the occupants hostage in retaliation for President Jimmy Carter giving asylum to the recently ousted Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi). However, six of the embassy staff escape and find shelter in the home of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

The U.S. State Department begins exploring options for exfiltrating the six Americans from Iran. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA “exfil” specialist who uses the name “Kevin Harkins,” concocts a rather unusual idea. He creates a cover story in which a Canadian film production crew is scouting locations for a new science fiction film, and Iran is one of the locations he wishes to scout. With the help of his supervisor, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez recruits John Chambers (John Goodman), an Oscar-winning make-up artist, and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a film producer.

They pretend to have a film in development; entitled Argo, it is a science fantasy in the style of Star Wars. When Mendez moves to Iran for the most crucial stage of the operation, he discovers that he and his fake movie are always in real danger.

From the very beginning of the film, Argo grabbed me and pulled me to the edge of my seat, and from there, the movie kept me in the grip of fear and trepidation. From start to finish, damn, this is a great movie. Argo is an example of how supremely important the film editor, in this case, William Goldenberg, is to a film; Goldenberg is totally indispensable to success of the Argo. The nerve-wracking thriller that Argo is results from Goldenberg putting together what becomes a transfixing narrative. He certainly deserved and earned his best editing Oscar for Argo.

Of course, by praising Goldenberg, I do not want to take anything away from Ben Affleck as director. Affleck has made a movie that is a terrific thriller, but it is not an action thriller. Affleck uses the suspense weaved into Chris Terrio’s Oscar-winning screenplay and summons his inner Hitchcock, turning in what is one of the best heist movies in recent memory. He does it with such intimacy. Argo isn’t wide open. Affleck squeezes everything into tight and cramped visual spaces, as if it to emphasize that the characters are working hard to avoid the confines of either prison or the grave.

There are some good performances in this film, though nothing really outstanding, except for two. Alan Arkin and John Goodman turn in some of their most distinctive work in supporting roles as the unconventional Lester Siegel and John Chambers, respectively. Ben Affleck is oddly muted and stiff as Tony Mendez/Kevin Harkins. There are a few scenes when that works, but not many. Sometimes, it is as if Mendez isn’t even present in the movie, even when he’s in a scene; maybe that not-really-there act is the way a CIA operative is supposed to be.

Anyway, Argo is fantastic. This is one time when I don’t think that the “Best Picture” Oscar winner is a joke, even if it isn’t my choice. I plan to make Argo a favorite of mine, worthy of repeated viewings.

9 of 10

2013 Academy Awards, USA: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney), “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published” (Chris Terrio), and “Oscar Best Achievement in Editing” (William Goldenberg); 4 nominations: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Alexandre Desplat), “Best Achievement in Sound Editing” (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn), and “Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” (John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and José Antonio García), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Alan Arkin)

2013 BAFTA Awards: 3 wins: “Best Film” (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney), “Director” (Ben Affleck), “Editing” (William Goldenberg); 4 nominations: “Adapted Screenplay” (Chris Terrio), “Leading Actor” (Ben Affleck), “Original Music” (Alexandre Desplat), and “Supporting Actor” (Alan Arkin)

2013 Golden Globes, USA: 2 wins: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Ben Affleck) and “Best Motion Picture – Drama;” 3 nominations: “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Alexandre Desplat), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Alan Arkin), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Chris Terrio)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

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