I had seen the preview and commercials for this one many multiple times, and at no point became any more interested in watching it than my level of complete ho-hum humdrum upon seeing the preview the first time. Somehow, like a scheming politician, my feelings toward it evolved to the point that it seemed the singularly best option last Sunday night, especially considering the mediocre reviews that Hitchcock was receiving.
My initial aversion to watching Argo had a lot to do with the way it was marketed, to play up the farcical aspects: Ben Affleck, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are out to make a silly fake movie as part of a ridiculous scheme to extricate a group of hostages from the Iranian embassy crisis of 1980. I didn’t even like the title. I was thinking some kind of post-modern Marx brothers nonsense, all failing miserably. Part of why I decided to go see it over Lincoln (which I will eventually see, before or after it wins Best Picture (assuming it is not unseated by Les Miz)) and Hitchcock was the South Park bump and generally very good reviews, with a 95% Tomatometer score. South Park commands a lot of respect for me — after all this is where I learned what both Mormons and Scientologists believe — so I figured heck, I’ll give it a chance, how bad can it be?
Although there are good and well-placed comic moments in Argo, this is not the farce I expected. It starts off informing viewers that it is “based on” a true story, an effective ploy to invest the viewer further into the plot. What follows is not a comedy, but a story of attempted escape and survival, with life and death consequences.
And it succeeds. It begins with an exciting depiction of the overtaking of the American embassy in Tehran, with a perfect amount of background information to make us understand why the Iranians are so pissed off at Americans. From there the movie does not let up, but nor does it become fatiguing. In building toward the climax, Affleck (who also directs) does rely on over trod, worn-out movie mechanisms — this is where I think the “based on” a true story aspects come in. But unless you’re a jaded movie critic like myself, you won’t give these moments a second thought — at least until you’ve left the theater. Argo‘s two hours fly by quickly; it is engaging, entertaining, exciting and funny, and will be revisited come Oscar time. 8/10 and a guaranteed one of six dozen movies the Academy nominates for Best Picture, or how ever many they decide to nominate this year since they are completely spineless.
Stick around for the end credits, for some photo comparisons between cast members and those they depict, and a few words from Jimmy Carter.