Argo

(left to right) John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck in “Argo.”

“Argo” is a neat little genre thriller that delivers exactly what it promises.  If you have seen its trailer, you will not be disappointed.  If you have not seen the trailer, just go and see this suspenseful, funny and well done movie.

Actor/director Ben Affleck, who also plays the lead, has done an authentic and efficient job of telling this tale, “based on a true story.”  In other words, the filmmakers have given themselves quite a bit of leeway in bringing to the screen this previously classified story of how CIA operative Tony Mendez rescued six members of the American Embassy staff in Iran.  The six escaped during the take over of the Embassy, which then lead to the hostage crisis, which began in 1979.  While I do not know the facts of the “Argo” case, the film is a very credible and, at points, quite funny, account of how this improbable yet true rescue was engineered.  In other words, if this is not the way it happened, then it’s the way it should have happened.

The plan that Mendez has is for him to fly into Iran and pass the six Americans off as members of a Canadian film crew.  Their cover story is that they are scouting locations in Iran for a science fiction movie, “Argo,” for which they need the desert like terrain and Middle Eastern locations found in Iran.  Mendez brings fake passports and dossiers for the six, who are hiding in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor.

“Argo’s” supporting cast includes John Goodman as real life movie make-up artist John Chambers and Alan Arkin as producer Lester Siegel.  Chambers works with producer Siegel (actually a composite character based on four people) to maintain the front that “Argo” is a real movie with a real Hollywood production office.  Goodman and Arkin provide the humor which helps to put over this seemingly improbable story.  Humor in the middle of such a tense situation does a lot to bring off the authenticity of the piece.  Remember, just because something is based on truth does not mean it will come off as believable in a movie.  As one of the characters says, as if acknowledging the script’s improbability, “This is the best bad idea we have sir, by far.”

The other aspect that contributes to “Argo’s” credibility is its meticulous attention to the film’s 1970’s look: production design, wardrobe, hair, communications technology, cars, etc. All of these elements have been authentically captured by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.  Prieto has shot much of Argo” in a muted, grainy, had held style, very reminiscient of 1970s documentaries.  Prieto has captured the mood of the time so nicely that “Argo” even begins with scratches and negative dirt (white specks), making me think, for a moment, that “Argo” was being shown on film.  Just about all theatres now show movies digitally.  Digital does not scratch or pick up dirt, so the effect of dirt and scratches really put me in a 1970s (when movies were shown on film) frame of mind.  While most viewers will not notice this, I think it is a nice touch that contributes to the over all psychological effect of the film.

“Argo” is playing locally at City Cinemas Village East Cinema, 181 2nd Avenue, AMC Loews 19th Street, East 6, 890 Broadway and AMC Loews Kips bay 15, 570 2nd Avenue.

Argo, Director Ben Affleck, 2012,

Warner Bros. Pictures, 120 minutes, rated R

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 16, 2012, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Quentin Tarrantino often puts scratches and negative specks into his films. Watch for it in “Grindhouse”, the double feature of “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof”. I hadn’t planned to see Argo but after reading your review I think that I’ll check it out.

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