Cameron's Review of Argo
Man, Iran just cannot catch a break, and apparently Canadians can't either, because even when it's their film crew whose launching a daring rescue mission, and people are still remembering Americans the most as heroes. Eh, maybe it's the Canadians faults for not getting a whole lot of credit for this stunt, because I can see them disowning this faux sci-fi film before production was even launched, as it is so cheesy that they stopped just short of going so far as to call the men of space in it - you guessed it - Argonauts (Speaking of cheesy, is anyone else having trouble thinking of Jason and the Argonauts and not thinking about a '60s pop-rock band?). You can of course see the irony in the fact that the real film about this faux film is good, even if it's not too much less cheesy, simply because it features cream-white Bostanite Ben Affleck as some guy named Antonio Mendez. Thank goodness Mendez prefers the nickname Tony, seeing as how it makes him sound more American, because when I hear a name like the one on the person Affleck is portraying in this film, I'd sooner expect Luis Guzmán in the role, though, in all fairness, that might just be because Affleck is sporting Guzmán's trademark beard in this film. I must say that Brian Salisbury of Spill.com hit the nail right, smack-dab on the head when he said that this film is so authentic to the '70s that Affleck went so far to put shag carpet on his face, possibly from Bryan Cranston, which shouldn't be too hard, because as much as Cranston goes bald with a beard, then beardless with as about much of a full head of hair as he can have behind his receding hairline, I'm beginning to think that his hair and beard are detachable, and that the windows of time between his films and "Breaking Bad" aren't as wide as he might claim. Jeez, thinking about it, Cranston's got a lot of work under his belt from 2012, so it's only fair that his streak end with this film, a grand finale that is certainly a better relfection of Cranston's taste in work than "Rock of Ages" and - woah, boy - "Red Tails". Still, no matter how good this film is, if you think that the mission to shoot a fake film in Iran in order to rescue captured Americans is an impossible one, then you should look into the task of making a flawless film.
This film wouldn't be doing its job as a rescue thriller too well if it disregarded the people who our protagonists were going to rescue, especially when their subplot merges with the core story half-way through the film, so of course, before Ben Affleck's Tony Mendez character confronts the hostages about an hour into this film, storytelling switches focus onto the hostages in Iran, whose story's presentation is inspired enough to compel and all, but would have been even more engaging if the hostage point-of-view switches didn't feel rather obligatory, to where the film jars into its crucial, but repetitious subplot with little grace, thus sparking a bit awkward focal unevenness. If nothing else's consistency is thrown off by sudden focal shifts, then it's tone's consistency, as this film's core story will often keep up a lively atmosphere, only to swiftly shift into darker notes with the presentation of people who are pretty much just sitting around, waiting to die, which isn't to say that tonal inconsistency occurs only when we switch focus onto the hostages' subplot, because even though this film is generally organic in its tonal layers, there come times in which the film finds itself too eager to abandon all of the fun and games and get into more tense moments that are indeed effective, but would have been more potent if their incorporation wasn't so sudden. Needless to say, the lack of full assurance in tonal dynamicity dilutes this film's kick, though it's not like the film at least keeps consistent in having a firm grip on the intrigue within whichever tone its focusing upon in the first place, because as entertaining and compelling as this film is, slow spells never drift too far away from pacing momentum, not quite looming over this film as much as they did in Affleck's previous effort, "The Town", but being pronounced enough to bland things up a smidge, and help in making shifts in pacing every bit as inorganic as shifts in tone and focus. Pacing is generally tight and gripping in this film, but grip goes loosened time and again by a kind of awkward unevenness in pacing that has this film dancing between smooth and gritty in progression so often that, after a while, repetition hits rears its ugly head into things, leaving you to slowly, but surely predict the next beat in this film's formula, which is so engaging, but not enough to obscure Affleck's further proving that he's just not entirely ready to be the directorial heavyweight that many people are calling him. Each one of his three films, including this one, acclaimed, Affleck, as director, is recieving a lot of praise as a revelatory filmmaker, and I'm happy to pay Affleck some pretty high compliments, as I have found every one of his films, including this one, rewarding, yet I couldn't ever shake some sense of awkwardness within Affleck's previous efforts, as surely as I can't fully shake some sense of awkwardness within this effort, which is inspired enough to compel thoroughly, same as "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town", but not as assured as it should be. Tonally, Affleck feels a bit distanced as storyteller, and that gives you enough time to meditate upon all of the unevenness and repetition that can't battle back this film's reward value, but holds the final product back when it comes to achieving full potential. Nevertheless, this film accles more than it trips up, being neither as smoothly structured or confidently told as it should be, but still charged enough to sustain your investment through and through, while the film's musicality helps in sustaining entertainment value.
Set in the final days of the 1970s, as well as so soon in the early days of the '80s that some cheesy '80s tunes don't have enough time to kick in, this film boasts the potential to deliver on an awesome soundtrack, and sure enough, while this film's mainstream soundtrack isn't too heavily played up, you can expect plenty of lively '70s tunes - from Booker T. and the MG's' "Hip Hug-Her" and Van Halen's "Dance the Night Away", to Dire Strait's "Sultans of Swing" and Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" - to liven things up, while Alexandre Desplat delivers on a score that isn't too upstanding or refreshing, but still quite strong in its diverse and atmospherically pronounced kick and rhythm to both entertain and add a bit of color to this film's substance. What further adds to the kick of this thriller is, of course, William Goldenberg's editing, which occasionally gets to be kind of overbearing its being so actively tight, but is generally just comfortable enough in its tightness to really grip, slickly snapping footage together with a nifty storytelling style that both augments liveliness and helps you in getting a grip on the freneticism that drives much of this film's intrigue. Musically and technically, at the very least, the film accels with just enough assurance to spark a sense of style that breathes quite a bit of life into this film's substance, though it's not like substance needs such reinforcements a style to earn your investment, being gripping in concept, alone. This film's subject matter isn't as well-handled as it would have been if Ben Affleck was more assured in his story structure and atmospheric storytelling, but it is still valuable and interesting enough to hold your attention with its being both valuable and just crazy enough to be real, or at least just crazy enough to present screenwriter Chris Terrio with something of a challenge that he, more often than not, overcomes strongly, for although Terrio's story structure is far from consistently smooth, it is generally tight and taut, with slick momentum whose liveliness goes complimented by sharply clever dialogue and humor, as well as by colorful characterization that is itself complimented by a team of confident performers. There's very little for our performers to work with dramatically, as surprising as that may seem, yet most everyone brings his or her well-wrought character to life with distinct charisma, with someone like Alan Arkin all but stealing the show as the charming jerk of a has-been film producer, while Ben Affleck, as lead actor, convinces you enough of Tony Mendez's intellignce, wit and humanity to make him a memorable lead. As the head of this film's cast, Affleck doesn't really do a whole lot that's all that extraordinary, but he puts enough heart into his performance for it compel, and I wish I could say that about him as a director, as Affleck just isn't as assured as he should be as storyteller, which isn't to say that Affleck isn't inspired enough in his direction to do quite a bit as a driving force of this film's compellingness, standing to be smoother in his storytelling, but still putting quite a bit of nifty attention to detail into the crafting of this film's setting, while keeping pacing generally quite grippingly tight, not to where unevenness doesn't bleed through, but decidedly to where the film's tonal and focal layers, more often than not, pull through smoothly. Whether when he's keeping things entertaining or keeping things tense, Affleck, as director, keeps the film thoroughly compelling, and although he could have - nay - should have hit harder, what Affleck does as storyteller is enough to craft a rewarding final product.
At the end of the mission, you may find yourself a bit thrown off by the film's slight focal unevenness, moderate tonal unevenness, and fair bit of pacing unevenness, which leaves slow spots is disengage, and more frenetic spots to overbear at times, thus you're to grow more aware of Ben Affleck's simply not being as confident as he should be as storytelling, while the film itself is left to fall short of its full potential, something that isn't totally lost in this generally rewarding thriller, which boasts a strong soundtrack and sharp editing to liven up valuable subject matter, which recieves quite a bit of justice from Chris Terrio's clever and generally tight script, charisma within most every member of the cast, and enough inspiration within Affleck's layered and engaging storytelling to make "Argo" an entertaining and engrossing thriller that all too often trips up, but ultimately pulls through as worthile.
3/5 - Good