April 1, 2013

Movie Monday: Argo

Argo I was horribly ill last week, but I felt well enough by Saturday to sit through a movie so my mother rented Argo.  (I seem to be totally better now, thankfully.)  I've wanted to see Argo since I first saw the trailer, so ending the long wait did help make me feel better.  (And less out of the loop.  It won the Academy Award for Best Picture before I got around to seeing it!)

Argo begins with a comic-book style sequence imparting the basics of modern Iranian history.  I was pretty impressed, because if there is one thing I've learned from FLCL, comic-book style sequences are hard to animate.

The Argo leaps into a riveting sequence, when a mob of students breaks into the US Embassy in Tehran - and six employees in a side building manage to escape the hostage situation.  They find refuge with the Canadian ambassador and the CIA decides extracting them isn't a priority.  Then the situation changes.  And no one has a clue how to get them out.  Their best idea?  Create a fake movie and say the six are a film crew scouting locations.

Argo does a good job of keeping the tension high, but not so high that the movie is a pain to watch.  There are spots to breathe.  Even before Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) goes to Hollywood, there's humor in the scene where the State Department presents their ideas for extraction to the CIA.  But the majority of the humor does come from the Hollywood scenes.

I particularly enjoyed how Argo used period music.  Films set in the seventies tend to go for the same songs.   It's a storytelling crutch nowadays.  Those recognizable bits of classic rock are there, but they tend to punctuate a scene instead of playing out over an action montage.  Late in the movie one song is allowed to play on, and I'm not sure whether I like it or not.  The song is perfect for the scene, but the lyrics are so on the nose that it's hard not to feel like you're being nudged with the clue hammer.

I find the real story behind Argo fascinating.  I knew about the Iranian Hostage Crisis from school - and my mom from being alive in 1979 - but I'd never heard about the six.  I enjoyed reading up on the situation and finding out what was real and what was invented to make the movie more dramatic.  Honestly, I think the movie could've dialed back on the invention a hair and been even better.  Many of the added bits stuck out as artificial, messing with the movie's realistic tone.

I liked Argo because it's a fascinating story and it was told with style, humor, and urgency.  I can't say whether it deserved to win the statue since I haven't seen many of its competitors yet, but I don't think it's a film someone would regret watching.  And it's kind of sad that the Argo cover film was never to be because it sounds like something I would love.

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