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Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Argo" May Very Well Be the Best Film of 2012


"Argo," among the nominees for the 2012 Best Picture Academy Awards, may very well be the best film of 2012, and Ben Affleck may very well be the best director. Unlike other frontrunners, "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo" is a movie-movie. Like those other two films, it tells a true story, but unlike those other two, disappointing films, "Argo" is not a starchy and lumpy docudrama. "Argo" is a smoothly running machine.

"Argo" tells a gripping story in a gripping way, never preaching ("Lincoln"), never getting too caught up in one aspect of the story to distort the narrative line ("Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lincoln.") "Argo" wants to entertain you, and it does. It's a thriller. My palms were sweating as much while watching this movie as while watching an old-fashioned suspense flick by Alfred Hitchcock, even though, like most viewers, I know how the story ends. I found the opening scene of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran so frightening I could hardly watch it. This is all the  more remarkable given that I'd heard a radio interview in which Affleck joked about finding only older actors to perform the part of the "students" storming the embassy.

"Argo"'s cast is full of actors I know well, have seen in many other films, and whom I like a lot: Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Bryan Cranston. It's testimony to the film's power that I stopped thinking about these actors and got lost in the characters they were playing.

"Argo" tells the true story of a CIA plot to release six Americans from Iran during the hostage crisis. The plot: pretend that the six Americans are Canadians there to scout locations for an upcoming Sci-Fi flick.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin are utterly believable, funny, and moving as the Hollywood part of the team. There's a brilliant, throwaway scene in which Alan Arkin and Richard Kind bargain over the price of a movie script. The scene doesn't advance the plot, but the dialogue is perfect and fast. It's just a witty respite in a tense movie about a life-and-death situation. Ben Affleck is perfect as a CIA operative. He keeps his cards very close to his chest.

Farshad Farahat plays an amazingly hairy airport guard. He screams in Farsi. Most audience members, not speaking Farsi, will have no idea what this man is saying – there are no subtitles. Even so, we are terrified. Farahat deserves an award for his brief but pivotal performance as the face and voice of the enemy the entire world now confronts, an enemy driven by incoherent, focused, murderous rage.

"Argo" has a little bit of heartwarming family drama, a little bit of arcane CIA in-shop detail, a little bit of Hollywood behind-the-scenes banter, a very little bit of nightmarish torture. It never lingers in one type of scene too long; it just glides along, telling its story as economically and movingly as possible.
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If you liked "Argo," you'll like "Save Send Delete;" it will provide you with provocative discussion of Islam. 

3 comments:

  1. My only complaint about the movie is that it adds false suspense, laying it on thick enough that I guessed (correctly) while watching that those details were invented.

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    2. Karen, I respect your opinion. I was okay with the extra added details, though. "Art is the lie that tells the truth." The whole operation probably was rife with sweaty-palmed moments, moments that would not translate to cinematic language. So Affleck conveyed the suspense to us in a way that we could grasp.

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