Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Argo f*** yourself!", 24 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Argo (DVD + UV Copy) [2013] (DVD)
I think I know why "Argo" won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Hollywood loves itself. It loves movies about itself. And it really loves movies where Hollywood helps the CIA save the day.

In fact, you can practically hear the producers squealing whenever cynical Hollywoodites appear in "Argo," helping set up a sensitive operation to rescue innocent Americans from peril. The movie itself is a fairly decent dramatization of a real-life rescue from Iran, but ironically the halfhearted Hollywood qualities are also what bogs down the story.

When the United States gives asylum to the dying Shah of Iran, a militant mob retaliates by attacking the American Embassy in Tehran. Six people escape to the Canadian ambassador's house, but they have no way of getting home -- if they even try to step outside, they will be recognized and killed.

So the State Department calls on Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA specialist who immediately shoots down all their idiotic ideas. He has the kind of idiotic idea that you seriously think Hollywood made up: pretend to be a team of Canadian filmmakers scouting for locations for a sci-fi/fantasy movie. Yes, seriously. With no better ideas on the table, the government reluctantly gives approval.

With the help of film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), Mendez sets up a fake studio, fake casting, and a terrible script called "Argo." Posing as a producer, Mendez infiltrates Iran with a bunch of fake Canadian passports -- but one slip could mean death for him and the hostages.

I admit to knowing very little about the real-life hostage situation, because it happened long before I was born. But even before being dramatized by Hollywood, it's a pretty bizarre story -- and I doubt Hollywood could have found a more ideal movie to lavish praise on. After all, it's about Hollywood helping save the day from Evil Middle-Easterners!

And the movie is genuinely well-done, especially once we get to Tehran -- there is a palpable sense of tension, as if Mendez and the hostages are dancing over tripwires. You really feel the delicate situations that are arising, and how the slightest mistake could get everyone killed. And despite the truly ridiculous "making a movie" idea (complete with costumes!), director/actor Ben Affleck does manage to handle it with a straight face.

However, it also suffers from some excessively cheesy dialogue ("No, I was screaming his name 'cause I was f***ing him"), and some hideously awkward attempts at character development. The whole "absentee daddy" subplot is just so painfully Hollywood, as is the scene where the plane tickets are approved JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME, or when the Iranian guards chase them all the way to the plane.

And while it attempts to show that the greatest victims of tyranny in Iran are its people, almost all the Iranians we see are either beady-eyed, bearded thugs or ravening rage-zombie mobs. It's just one of many hoary old cliches that are trotted out here.

Ben Affleck was starring as well as directing here, and he does an excellent job job -- he's subtle and low-key, especially during the scenes where they try to sneak through an airport. Most of the other notable performances are from the Hollywood "characters," namely Arkin and Goodman; the government suits are honestly hard to tell apart, and rarely do much except bluster.

"Argo" is a solid thriller with a quietly compelling, intense style, and Affleck does a good job juggling direction and acting. But the onslaught of cliches leaves you acutely aware that this is a Hollywood movie, and the kind they love best.
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