Argo (2012)

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Argo is a pretty good film with a pretty weak screenplay. If I heard one more audience member cackling over the particularly unclever line, "Argo fuck yourself," I was going to hold them all hostage until they gained an appreciation of more elegant writing. Dialogue quality aside, Argo is smart and enjoyable. Telling the true story of a CIA collaboration with the Canadian government to rescue a group of Americans hiding from revolutionaries in Iran, Argo maintains a masterful conveyance of tone throughout. The plan to rescue these individuals revolves around a fake movie crew doing a location shoot for a truly dreadful science fiction movie in Iran. Even if you know the outcome of the ordeal, Argo succeeds at creating and holding tension as we learn more about these individuals and how they each deal with the terrifying situation in which they've found themselves. Most of the performances are quite good, although Alan Arkin's nomination for once again playing the grandfather from Little Miss Sunshine is a trifle baffling. I was delighted to see Rory Cochrane in this. "What's with today today?" indeed, Lucas. And there's a cast member named Scoot McNairy. SCOOT MCNAIRY!

The direction of Argo is one of the strongest aspects of the film. God, I feel so proud of Ben Affleck. Against some considerable odds, he continues to prove his talent.


As the president of the "I'm Indifferent to Ben Affleck Club", I was more or less indifferent to seeing Argo. When chatter about Argo began, I didn't pay a lot of attention, imagining a loose re-make of Syriana mixed with Munich, neither of which I cared for. There'd probably be a lot of gritty shots of people running around with a thin string of blood emitting from their temple, a shot or two of someone in captivity with a thin string of saliva emitting from their mouth, and a shot of the main character, shirtless and stressed, rubbing his temples in front of a mirror and exhibiting enough body hair for the audience to think "Huh! Celebrities have body hair, just like the rest of us!"

Argo is none of these things, and all of these things. The plot, loosely summed up, revolves around an effort to rescue 6 American diplomats who work for the United States embassy in Iran. These diplomats are pretty much having a 24/7 tea party with the Canadian ambassador, and to be honest, I'm not really sure what the point of the rescue was in the first place. Who wouldn't want to play board games and eat dinner with Victor Garber every friggin' day? To know this is to know more about the film than I did going into it. It's funny at times, stressful at times, and then... funny at times, and then stressful at times... and then...

I've heard enough people speak about the movie to have heard the phrase "It's fine, but there's nothing really special about it." about 10 gazillion times, and I get that. But for me, Argo is a terrific example of terrific storytelling, and I think that's terrific. Although some liberties were taken with the story to raise the stakes, for the most part it seems that the film documents an event in time with a great deal of respect and whatnot. Cue critic sound byte: What makes Argo special is its ability to straddle the line between humor and suspense, and at times, combine the two in a way that never gets confusing or feels irreverent. I spent the last 45 minutes of it gripping my arm rest like the safety bar on a roller coaster, afraid to let go and find myself toppling over the edge of my seat into a metaphorical souvenir shop selling large plush Looney Tunes characters. I don't need to see cinema re-invented to absolutely love a film and understand when it's a little gem in a sea of things that look like gems but actually aren't; the Academy apparently doesn't either, as evidenced by The King's Speech, A Beautiful Mind, Slumdog, Millionaire-Dollar Baby, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, and Argo. "Arrrr, go fuck yahself."


Argo is a suspenseful, well-paced film that maintains gravitas while still assuaging Hollywood's taste for happy endings. A CIA agent struggles to pull targeted American embassy workers out of Iran by inventing a story around them in which they are a production team scouting locations for a sci-fi film named Argo.

As well made as it is, this film feels like it's trying to hit all the notes of a perfect Hollywood production thus making it lack an edge. It's just too easy. An average audience viewing this film will feel educated by it while not having to think much. The look and sound of this film are a standard top-notch. The story is intriguing, but very simple. The dialogue feels contrived, flat, and full of cheap jokes that are clearly aimed at Hollywood insiders. The last 20 minutes are the best, and maintain extreme suspense for the entire stretch, but I found myself getting anxious for it to be over. It is admittedly a good film, maybe even a "perfect" film (as Alan Arkin said in response to it losing an Oscar nomination for directing), but it is only worth watching once.