Monday, January 21, 2013
Photo: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, from the film, and from the film's Wikipedia page.
I'd wanted to see this film for a long time, since before it came out, and I'm glad I did. I'm not a huge Ben Affleck fan; I've long considered him to be the more pale of the Affleck / Damon team. But he directs Argo even better than he acts in it, and he wisely keeps his acting subdued and minimal throughout. (In fact, one wonders if that was all his real-life character said to the people he helped save.)
It's filmed in a purposely grainy 70s style, more old 70s film than documentary film, if you know what I mean. The sets, style, props and costume are all pitch-perfect. The film even opens as if it were a 70s Warner Bros. showing (which I'm just old enough to remember), a nice touch that I noticed right away. Anyway, this film is all 70s, all the time, even superficially so--and this helped it a great deal.
The directing, pace and acting was so good that, although you know how it's going to turn out (everyone of that age knows that all the Iran hostages came out alive, right?), it's still full of tension anyway. For this reason, the Academy's snub of Affleck as director is a little confusing, although the other directors also did great jobs, and their films were maybe a little harder to direct. Maybe. I don't have a beef with any of those nominations, but it would've been nice to have a sixth slot for Affleck.
In terms of the film being an actor's showcase (which it essentially is, just like Lincoln, which was a better film, and hence the snub, maybe), it's really Alan Arkin's film. Arkin is all over the place recently, which is nice to see, as he's been a great, but sporadic, actor for a long time. (One of his better recently was in the silly but very watchable Get Smart.) He has all the good lines here, and he delivers them with clear amusement. (This is very obvious when he delivers the movie's catch-phrase, which involves the movie title, and which he delivers with relish.) He and John Goodman obviously had a good time filming this. Though those two characters have limited roles, and though they're literally trapped in their office on-set (they have to be there when the phone rings), they manage to somehow carry the film from that side of the Pond. In a small but clear way, this is a Hollywood film that pokes fun at itself.
At just two hours, it's also one of the shorter better films of the year. It doesn't feel too short, and it definitely would've seemed too long had it been so. The film doesn't have anything more to say but which it says. Speaking of that, don't leave the theatre at the end of the film if you'd like to see photos of the real-life people juxtaposed with the actors who played them, as well as some historically-relevant shots of the real people with other important real people of the time.
I normally don't recommend spending $11.50 on a film that's just two hours long, that doesn't need to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate. (I want to see so many films that I have to narrow it down. Two of the ways I do this is to choose longer films--thereby getting more bang for the same eleven and a half bucks--and to choose films, usually action or sci-fi, that need to be seen on the big screen. Prometheus was one of those.) But I do recommend spending that money to see this short-ish film that doesn't need the big screen to fully appreciate. Just see the longer ones that need the big screen first, as I did.