So, if you read The Movie Frog on any kind of regular basis, you know that my taste in films tends to run toward the bizarre and experimental. The more a film seems tailor made for popular consumption and wide spread audience appeal, the less likely I am to find it all that memorable (unless it's a picture about my favorite comic book character of all time, in which case all bets are off). So, even though I really enjoyed The Town, I wasn't sure that I was going to be nearly as fond of Argo as the majority of critics were on the film festival circuit. I am pleased to report that, despite myself, I absolutely loved the film, even though it is perfectly suited for mass appreciation, and is definitely a film that you can share with friends who are in no way film snobs.
Most REALLY good to great movies have one or two elements that rise above all the other wonderful things about them to really knock your socks off and bring the victory home. In The Dark Knight rises it is the marriage of spectacle and character development. In Beasts of the Southern Wild it is the subtext and the performance of the young lead. In The Master it is the cinematography and the three lead performances. Argo's strongest suit? Pacing.
Argo is a complex two hour film that seems to go by like an hour and ten minutes of easily digestible popcorn entertainment. You can't do that without the careful collaboration of an extremely skilled directorial/editorial team. Ben Affleck began proving his chops as a director straight out of the gate and has improved with each successive outing. In this, only his third film, he really delivers like a master at the top of his game. All the elements come together beautifully, every scene and every shot are given their just due and nothing more, and every member of the ensemble cast fits perfectly with every other (more on that in a bit). Of course, he could not have delivered such a well timed product without the help of a terrific editor. William Goldenberg, twice nominated by the Academy for Seabisquit and The Insider, fits that bill perfectly, exceeding the expectations of his professional pedigree. Both men should be strong contenders for not only Oscar nominations, but wins, unless Goldberg cancels himself out with the double duty he pulled editing both this film and the upcoming Zero Dark Thirty.
The second most amazing thing about Argo is the tonal shift halfway through the film. The first half of the movie is very witty, downright comic at times. Midway through it really kicks into suspense thriller mode without seeming at all like two different films. The transition is so smooth that you don't even realize it has happened until you've been sitting on the edge of your seat for fifteen minutes. This is to the credit of Mr. Affleck once again, and first time feature screen writer Chris Terrio. They accomplish this with subtlety and realism in both phases. The laughs are never farcical or detracting in any way from the seriousness of the situation. Likewise, the second part is a thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock: quiet tension, ulitimately far more stressful to watch than any car chase. Stressful in a good and entertaining way.
The third best aspect of this movie is the fantastic ensemble cast. It is Ben Affleck's best acting performance yet. When the company of the film is discussed John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, and Alan Arkin are always cited (as they should be, all tremendous), but the accolades are deserved by a much larger group than just the four principles. There are no less than a dozen familiar faces (although some like Victor Garber and Zeljko Ivanek are much more acclaimed for their work on television than in film) that bring so much more to the small roles they play than would normally accompany an eighth or ninth billing.
It's very difficult, in fact, to find much fault with Argo, at least upon my initial viewing. Aspects such as the production design may find more trouble getting awards attention due to it being a period piece from so relatively recent in history, but it FELT like the late seventies, every bit of it. At the end of the movie they show side by side pictures of the actors and the real life individuals that they portray. It was a true testament not only to the work done by the casting department, but also the attention paid to detail in the costuming, make-up, and hair design.
When I last updated my Best Picture and Best Director predictions, I had Argo at number one in both categories. Now that I've seen the film, I have no reason to doubt those instincts. It is both an extraordinarily good picture and an easily accessible one. Ben Affleck's comeback story is pretty irresistible, even to a jaded Movie Frog such as myself. This is shaping up to be a great year for cinema, in a wide variety of types of film. 5 out of 5*
Related posts: Best the the Summer Wields? (review of Beasts of the Southern
Wild), Sept. Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs: Part 1, Part 2, Screenplays, Supporting Performers, Best Actor and Actress, Directors, and Picture. Can You Master Your Nature? (Master review), The Dark Knight Transcends