A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.
So the Oscars is this Sunday and like every year since, like, 2000, I’ve only managed to see about 1 or 2 of the films nominated for awards. So keeping up with the tradition, I’ve managed to watch Argo, which pretty much has caught my attention ever since it started getting nominated in a number of different award guilds. Contains some spoilers ahead!
For starters, I had no idea that there was more to this movie than an in-and-out job. That Hollywood was involved to make the mission more authentic made sense but I had no idea that it would (of course) take up a good portion of the film with the preparation. The contrast was startling–intriguing but pretty stark when you compare it to the sequences in Washington D.C. and Tehran. Despite of the nature of Tony’s visit, the Hollywood sequences got me chuckling a little bit especially with the ribbing about the way that Hollywood works and how it’s perfect for the exfil plan that Tony was coordinating. In fact, some of the dialogue throughout the movie was surprisingly amusing and catchy despite of the situation which made the movie so much more interesting in my eyes.
But stepping back, the film as a whole was fascinating to watch. I’m especially interested at the fact that this story has been declassified some time ago and it’s quite a feat to see the lengths that certain agents and governments went to recover their diplomats trapped in a revolutionary country (as an aside, I’m looking forward to watching the detailed documentary about this mission that’s included in the blu-ray). Looking at some of the things they did, how they managed to slip through the guards with their documents, posing as a movie crew scouting for locations, there’s no way this could happen in our day and age, all of which makes the story so much more fascinating. Obviously this film focuses on the rescue mission from the American perspective so a) the situation in Iran during this time period is not fleshed out beyond what the characters come across and from the news footage that you hear throughout and b) the role of the Canadians in this operation was minimised to the ambassador’s role.
Watching this movie, the settings really felt like I was watching something out of 1979/1980, a testament also to those involved in the production process (art, design, sets, etc.). Incorporating archived footage into the film was added bonus in portraying the story. Alexandre Desplat can do no wrong and I enjoyed hearing his score throughout the film, it reflects the intensity and the locations that this film portrayed.
But perhaps more to the point, Affleck directed a riveting thriller. As the stakes get higher, the atmosphere of the movie becomes tense, intense. The sequence when Tony and the six were at the airport, I could not sit still with all the waiting and the close calls that were reminiscent of the feeling I get whenever I watch one of the Bourne movies. The pacing for most of the movie fit the spy thriller feeling but it holds your attention, you’re invested to see what happens to these characters and whether they’d make it out safe and alive.
The cast is quite an ensemble of familiar actors–from Bryan Cranston to John Goodman to Victor Garber–and while they’re all fantastic in their roles, I can’t say if there was a particular breakout performance here that caught my attention or that I especially enjoyed. Maybe Scoot McNairy as the reluctant and terrified Joe Stafford and Bryan Cranston as Jack O’Donnell, Tony’s boss in the CIA. The characters weren’t completely fleshed out or anything due to time restraints and perhaps the nature of the film focusing on the overall canvas of the movie but they all contribute to the overall course of the narrative and the pressing sense of time running out and the emotions related to that run through.
Overall, Argo was an interesting movie and overall an entertaining experience. There’s a lot more to the movie than I thought and I enjoyed the way that some of the scenes were shot. I was a bit iffy about some of the cuts at the end but otherwise it’s quite a tight film. I’ve seen Ben Affleck’s The Town a few years ago and while the details are a little fuzzy, Argo shows that he has quite the eye for directing and for telling a story. It’s unfortunate that he was not nominated for an Oscar for Best Director but I’m looking forward to what his next project will be. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into this genre of movie.