Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: Argo

I haven't yet seen any of the other Best Picture nominees for the recent Oscars, so maybe they're all kind of lackluster, but I find it slightly strange that Argo won.

I say "slightly" because it does relive a tense historical moment that would be well-remembered by Academy voters, and it does celebrate the power of Hollywood to make a difference in the real world. So maybe it's not so strange.

Yet Argo feels dry and workmanlike compared with other films of its type. I may have been spoiled in a sense, because years ago I read the article on which the screenplay was based. But considering the setting, it should've felt more thrilling than it did.

Not that it was entirely free of thrills. A lot of credit goes to the actors playing Argo's "house guests," escapees from the stormed U.S. embassy; their edginess is continually palpable, and to the script's credit, Ben Affleck's stoic CIA character handles their anxiety with a minimum of cliché.

Affleck deserves credit too. The excellent cast manages to make their characters feel real, as historical dramas require, and Affleck does it as well as the more seasoned screen standbys here (Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and the indispensable Alan Arkin).

Less effective are the fairly obvious editing ploys intended to amp up the tension. Oh no, Tony's plane ticket reservation isn't in the computer! Ah, whew, his CIA buddies pushed it through just in time. Oh no, the Hollywood guys have a live shoot blocking their path to their office at the worst possible time! Ah, whew, they're being jerks and walking through the shot. We believe one such skin-of-the-teeth moment, maybe two in a nonhistorical caper film, but here we get like four or five by my count—and we just don't buy that these events are taking place at the exact same time on opposite sides of the world, which makes the attempt to imply it seem weak.

Still, I can't say that I got bored or seriously annoyed at any point. I didn't remember the facts of the story well enough to pick up on every single one the various embellishments, but even if I had, the skill with which Argo was made would've likely compensated for any nitpicking I might have indulged in. What matters isn't factuality, exactly, but how much more realistic and tense it could have been. And it couldn't have been much more realistic while still avoiding anticlimax. It could have been more tense, maybe via more character development of the house guests (and as Argo runs only 2 hours, they could've afforded the extra couple minutes). All the same, Argo's very solid, even fun in a bleak sort of way, and definitely recommended. Stay tuned to this space for my eventual Lincoln review (Netflix is being slow with that one), where I have a hunch I might say "THIS should've won Best Picture."

Star Score: 3.5 out of 5

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