Sunday, 4 November 2012

Film Review: Argo (2012)

Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Chris Terrio
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman

The opening twenty minutes of Ben Affleck’s third directorial offering is some of the best cinema of 2012 and easily the best thing Affleck has done behind the camera. It is so good that it harms the rest of the film and Argo unfortunately never lives up to that promise despite a very good effort.

At its pinnacle of the opening scenes, Argo reminds us of 1970s film making from the likes of Alan J Pakula or Sidney Pollack but in a way which doesn’t merely imitate their styles, but would fit right in next to The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, or Three Days of the Condor. The costume, set design, and the brown/grey/mustard colours and tones perfectly place the action in the late 1970s and Affleck captures an anger and panic which sets up the political backdrop in Iran and subsequent story perfectly and the film is immediately one of 2012’s best. The film even begins with a period Warner Brothers logo with artificial scratches and specks on the screen to further evoke the 1970s feel, even though this is not a technique this reviewer likes.

Argo mixes in an uneasy balance of drama and humour as the introduction of the fake film (‘Argo’) is brought in and the Get Shorty-style set up takes away from the serious threat Affleck showed in the opening scenes and it takes the audience away from the threat in Iran at a crucial time. Moreover, the film is based on a true story but that does not necessarily mean it works as a two hour motion picture; the story of what happened behind the scenes is interesting but because Affleck’s character doesn’t actually do anything which translates to a thrilling experience at the cinema (despite it being brave nonetheless) leads the film to disappoint in the final third, which should be its most entertaining.

The film goes from low-key intelligence to all-out thriller when the escape of the American citizens finally happens. As director, Affleck tries too hard to make the film exciting with the sheer amount of objects the crew have to overcome and the feeling of the director manipulating your emotions is far too apparent when a greater degree of subtlety was needed. Even when their airplane is taking off, Affleck makes it look like the beginning chase in Face/Off and the score is totally out of synch with the rest of the film’s music. The director’s choice to make the story into something it is clearly not is a major flaw and something which, in the hands of the aforementioned Pakula or Pollack would simply not have happened and sends Argo thudding very much back into 2012.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Despite the final act problems, Argo remains a competently made film with a superb beginning. The overall story, however, may make for a better History Channel documentary than it does a Hollywood movie.

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