Time for another movie review!
We saw “Argo” yesterday, and basically it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t a work of art, and it didn’t make any great points about the human condition, but it was very enjoyable to watch.
(To get it over with, one of the minor reasons it was fun is that it’s probably the best movie I’ve ever seen for the “where have I seen that actor” game. In addition to fairly big names like Bryan Cranston and John Goodman and Alan Arkin, “Argo” features — the Magister from “True Blood”! Andrew from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”! Clea DuVall from everything! That guy from “Monsters”! The “Friday Night Lights” guy playing a character identical to the character he plays in “Zero Dark Thirty”! Adrienne Barbeau as a space witch! And so on.)
But in addition to all that: it’s a thriller, more or less, and based on a true story, more or less. (Maybe more less than more, from what I’ve read.) The meat of the story — getting six of the Iran hostages out of Tehran by constructing fake identities for them as a Canadian sci-fi film crew — is certainly true, and is great to watch. It’s also agonizingly stressful at times. Being trapped in a building by a mob who hates you is not something I’ve thought much about, but I guess it must be truly horrific.
And obviously “Argo” has a great cast, but the acting is weirdly spotty. The good ones first: John Goodman is terrific as the make-up artist who helps the CIA make their fake film. Bryan Cranston is funny and great as a CIA higher-up. The six actors who play the hostages are very good, and always read like real people despite the men’s astonishing 1980-style facial hair.
The not-so-good: I didn’t love Alan Arkin in this, despite loving him more generally. He’s a Hollywood producer, and ends up being played mostly for comic relief. He’s nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for this, but I actually thought Goodman was significantly better, partially because he has a somewhat better part. It’s much clearer why Goodman’s character — who is a real person — is important to the plot than Arkin’s fictional producer character.
And Ben Affleck himself is honestly not so great in this. I think he can be a very good actor, but here he’s sort of playing the stock morose hero. What his character is accomplishing is interesting, but he feels the need to hit all the traditional notes we’ve seen a million times before. He’s separated from his wife and has a kid he wants to see more often. When he’s discouraged in Tehran, he goes to his hotel and looks out at the window while drinking whisky straight from the bottle. I never want to see that scene again in movies; I’ve seen that scene. And hotel rooms have glasses, presumably even in Iran. Pour the damn whisky into a glass. But this is both an acting problem and a directing problem, and they both probably come down to Affleck.
Technically though, the movie is great. Well paced, and it does some neat stuff with mixing in real contemporary footage from the time. Nothing crazy innovative, but it’s very well done.
In sum, I would definitely recommend “Argo.” And I see it compared to “Zero Dark Thirty” a lot, despite being a very different kind of movie. But if you ARE somehow put in a position where you have to choose which CIA-focused movie to see, I would voice strong support for “Argo” over “Zero Dark Thirty.” Neither is a masterpiece, but “Argo” is a lot more fun. Less torture, more John Goodman and trying to figure out where you’ve seen particular character actors.