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“Argo” (2012) Review

I’ll say that I’ve never been a fan of Ben Affleck. Whether acting or behind the camera, nothing he has done has impressed me to any large degree. In comes “Argo”, a film about an American hostage extraction from Iran. The story behind the operation grabbed my attention, but I was still skeptical with Affleck behind the camera and in the leading role. After leaving the theater, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-done the film was.

The big standout in the movie for me was the writing. The conversations flow naturally, and there is plenty of clever dialogue, including many smart, humorous lines that fit each scene. The writing is brought to an even higher level with some excellent casting, including John Goodman and an always hilarious Alan Arkin. Everyone, from the embassy hostages, to those back in D.C., to the Iranian military, all fit their roles and bring the script to life.

Arkin: “The saying goes, ‘What starts in farce ends in tragedy.'”
Goodman: “No, it’s the other way around.”
Arkin: “Who said that exactly?”
Goodman: “Marx.”
Arkin: “Groucho said that?”

Outside of the writing and casting, the directing done by Affleck in the film is decent. There aren’t any out-of-the-ordinary camera shots, but the scenes and settings he recreated from the mission were powerful and felt completely authentic. By creating this authenticity, bringing in a great cast, and providing them with high quality dialogue, the sense of urgency in the mission, feelings of terror in the hostages, and tension in the Canadian embassy and back in D.C. all feel quite powerful. You have that feeling that the mission can fall apart at any second – to quote Arkin at one point, “I gotta tell you, we did suicide missions in the Army with better odds than this.”

The one downside to the movie was the insertion of plenty of what I call “Hollywood fluff”. In this case, the fluff consists of the need for those classic action movie moments where the villain figures everything out at the exact time the hero is escaping and the hero has the closest call of his life, getting out in the nick of time. There are a few points where the characters are put into those classic scenes, as Affleck takes some liberty with the story in an attempt to increase the tension. Here, it detracts from the experience, as the viewer is smart enough to know that so many crucial things could not have happened at exactly the same time to result in such a close call.

“Hollywood fluff” aside, “Argo” was a tense film with some great writing and casting that brings to life a highly interesting mission in Iran. The setting was captured perfectly and the movie moves at a nice pace to avoid becoming stagnant. Slight flaws detract from the experience, but overall, most viewers should enjoy this movie.

Final Score: 8.5/10

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