“A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.”
Directed by: Ben Affleck, Rated: R, 120 minutes
I am joined by Ries, another writer for The Cinematic Katzenjammer for a double team review of Argo, Ben Affleck’s historical drama that has the momentum to win every award this year. The film has garnered massive amounts of attention and praise, but do we agree with the critics? Find out below.
N: So, what are your initial thoughts after watching Argo?
R: It was awesome. But only awesome because it didn’t really take any risks. I was looking at Rotten Tomatoes before watching the film, and I noticed something funny. Whenever I see a movie over 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, I know I’m going to have a lukewarm reaction to it. I think it’s because any movie that is universally liked by people can’t really be too risky. It’s got to stay pretty comfortably in a middle ground. That’s exactly what Argo was. It was a clever story – a true story, so it wasn’t original, in that sense – and it was well acted. But the pieces were already in place. The result was a really thrilling movie that, upon repeat viewings, would be eh.
N. I agree. For some reason, every Oscar season, I’m always indifferent towards the front-runners. Argo is great, and is filmed ridiculously well with amazing attention to detail, but I don’t think it pushes any boundaries or really makes you feel that inspired. I think it lacked that added “umph” that would make it exceptional. And I agree that repeat viewings won’t be as worthwhile, unless of course there is a lot in those little details that I missed upon the first viewing.
N: Before we go on a tangent saying how we weren’t exactly sold on the film, what are some of the things you really liked?
R: Simply put, the directing. I noticed early on that Affleck’s attention to detail are really understated, but added together, made something totally unique. The acting never leaves me going “Oh, I can’t see this happening.” Instead, I’m constantly thinking – “Wow, I can really see this.” One scene in particular really got to me, the scene where the couple is in the bathroom trying to make themselves look like their passport pictures and the woman says to the man “I’m scared.” The way she says it, the intimacy of the shot, the complete lack of glamour – that gritty sort of Boston The Town approach, it all adds up to something really special. So yeah, the acting is spot on. The soundtrack, the pacing – especially towards the end. The airport scene, and the way the tension goes higher and higher…I haven’t been holding my breath like that since the first time I saw The Hurt Locker. You?
N: I too love the directing. Affleck continues to prove that he’s one of the elite film-makers working today. I’m also glad to see him being just as successful outside his native Boston. It shows he really has the talent. I also love the fact that as he’s come into his own as one of the best director’s working, his acting abilities have also been elevated. He stars in Argo and does a great job carrying the film. And I agree, the intimacy of the entire film really makes it something special and I think that the acting (while great from everyone), is best from Affleck. As for the tension, I do agree that the ending gave me a bad case of white knuckles, but I was a little disappointed that the entire sequence was added, as none of that happened in real life. But, on the other hand, I understand the dramatizing of the events because it is, after all, a movie.
R:Yeah, I wondered about the authenticity of that scene. At that point I was swept up in the Hooray for Hollywood of it all. It’s funny you should mention the fact that this was Affleck’s first time filming outside Boston – I was really impressed with how well he managed to recreate other environments. That sounds so stupid, really, but I mean it. I was startled that his totality of vision extended beyond the boundaries of Cambridge.
N: If anything, Argo shows that Affleck has a bit more range in his ability and can handle a slightly larger scaled film. I’m really excited to what he does next and if Warner Brothers is really going after him, I would love to see him tackle a superhero movie. You mentioned the soundtrack, which I do enjoyed. Alexandre Desplat is a fine composer but the movie also utilizes some rock hits we’re all familiar with. Along with that fact, how well do you think Affleck captured the atmosphere of 1980?
R: Actually, that’s wonderful you brought that up. The scene where Led Zeppelin comes on in the background and plays “When The Levee Breaks” I got goosebumps. I got goosebumps because, well, I love that song, but also because I felt like the song embodied everything the movie was really about. The essence of the film that was disguised by the makeup of the strange humor throughout was best exemplified by that song. The tone was spot on for the time, spot on for the film, and I really felt like it was a “This could be our last night on earth, f*ck it, we’ll do it live” kind of scenario.
N: One of the best song choices that fit its scene I think in all of movies this year. As for the setting, Affleck nailed it. We never doubt the film is in the past and the costumes, makeup, effects, and props all fit the time perfectly. I love how tense so many situations were because of the old technology. Had this been today, so much of that would have been erased with cellphones and internet. It really showcased how the times have changed and that war, in its own way, is fought much differently than it is now. As for the makeup, in the closing credits when they show the actual people side by side with the actors portraying them, I double-taked a couple of times because of how identical they look. Huge props to Affleck crew for the detail and realism.
R: So we’ve talked about the acting, the soundtrack, the direction, and the sense of realism…these are all good things. Great things, really, because they never really truly falter. Which, I think is a perfect segue into what I didn’t like about the film. I think it never falters because it never really gambles. It gets close a couple times (near the beginning, when I felt like I was watching Munich except about Americans in Iran) but then it loses that sense of blistering intensity by trading it in for a tongue-in-cheek wink wink commentary about Hollywood show business. I’m not saying I disapprove of the message, and I think the true nature of the story makes it the entertaining near-fiasco that it is, but I felt like the tone of the film never really pushed past any comfort zones. Not only that, but I think part of the reason the acting, the music, the set design – all of it – was so solid, was because it was very…basic? I don’t know. There was never any moments where I thought to myself “This is subtle. This is fantastic.”
N: I agree. While I don’t think the film is terribly ‘safe’, I don’t think it had a lot of underlying themes to it. It’s a story told as it was (kind of) and while I can’t find fault in that, because it is done successfully, I was hoping for a little more. First off, I wish it was longer (it’s only 120 minutes) and I wish that we spent more time in Iran. Once Tony (Affleck’s character) shows up in Iran, I feel that the story progressed at about 10x the normal pace up to its conclusion. It’s not that the film was paced poorly, it just needed more heft in the middle to bring it home. The story is about supposed film crew making a movie in Iran, and scouting locations. I wish more of that was actually shown. Sure, it was a front for a lie, but I don’t think one outing into an Iranian bazaar is enough.
R: I think there’s too much time spent in Hollywood, and not enough time between when they leave the relative safety of the Canadian Ambassador’s house and get to the airport. The trip to the bazaar was tense, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t enough. I agree. And another thing – while I thought the film did a decent job in exposing the personalities behind a lot of the characters, I felt more depth aka more time could have been spent developing the characters we really cared about – i.e. the hostages and Tony. I did like the ending (past the airport) when he gets to be with his son, but I wondered what any of the ending really gave to the film. Oh, except the bit about him being given an award but then having to give it back. That was funny. Because it was very realistic.
N: Before we move onto our scores for the film, where would you rank this among the best films of the year? Is it deserving of its praise and worthy of the position of being the front-runner for the Oscars? The Academy does love a simple kind of film.
R: Heh. Simple, yes. Like The King’s Speech, the simplest film ever made that was perfectly decent through and through and therefore beat out a lot of films that had moments of true brilliance. I think Argo has that going for it too, which to be frank, bothers me. As much as I thought this was a good/perfectly adequate film (shout out to 500 Days of Summer there), I was never really stunned by it. It’s Affleck’s best film to date, but it’s not enough to push past the popcorn munching exuberance that was The Avengers to take the 8th place spot on my top 8 list. It’s definitely in the honorable mentions, though, alongside such worth films as Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Comedy.
N: I’d definitely put it in the top 10-15 for me of the year, specifically for how well it’s made. It’s definitely Affleck’s masterpiece in its attention to detail and overall polish, but there are too many other films I have to give the top spots too. While I definitely see it winning the Best Picture statue, I’m more okay with that this year than I was with The King’s Speech or Crash. So, in closing, on a one to ten scale, what would you give Argo?
R: I’d give Argo a solid 7.8 out of 10. And yourself?
N: 7.8/10 as well.
R: Nick, I think this is a sign we should run away and get married.
N: Argo fuck yourself.
Overall, Argo is a successful thriller that takes you back and time and to the edge of your seat. It’s effective in its attention to detail and near obsession with realism and you can’t help but sit back and appreciate the talent of Ben Affleck, both on screen and behind the camera. Unfortunately, the film has its way with history (for dramatic effect) and doesn’t quite push the boundaries as far as you’d hope.Even then, though, it’s easy to rank it among the best films of 2012 and I can only imagine it will be the film talked about come Oscar time. I’m happy to see Affleck finally getting the attention he deserves and I cannot wait to see where he goes with his career.
Nick’s Overall: 7.8/10
Ries’ Overall: 7.8/10