Review: ARGO – the must-see film of 2012?

“To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”

Argo Poster ARGO does far more than salute the spirit of cooperation that’s existed between Canada and the United States, and how that helped save six Americans during the height of the Iranian Hostage Crisis: ARGO cements Ben Affleck’s place as one of the greatest directors making films today. My only concern about this movie is that the subtleties of the genius of it might be lost on a less discerning audience.

Sometimes, when you go to view a film, you have that split second when you know that the film is great. In ARGO, that moment came in a moment of silence, with a screen that had faded to black. Affleck held the count in that transition perfectly. I was reminded of how I felt, reading the works of James Sallis. As a bass guitar player, I appreciate the work of silence as much as any other aspect of a story; sometimes it’s the space between the notes or words that proves the superior storytelling at work.

In a film being released in 2012, in a year that’s given us The Hunger Games, The Amazing Spiderman, Avengers and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, to give us a perfect moment of quietness and have the confidence to not rush the scene stands out even more than it might have otherwise.

Affleck conveyed a movie that has the look and feel of a film from the time its set in. He didn’t need to blow things up every five minutes, and yet the movie ramps up the tension steadily throughout.

The fear in the film permeates it, and it’s never far from your mind. It also genuinely feels as though that fear is never far from the minds of the people on the screen, either. One of the things that makes a great character film isn’t just the ability to believe in the characters as presented, but to compulsion to see them as real, because they’ve convinced you, on every level. That’s a reality here. You could feel the tension in the Canadian Embassy; you felt the claustrophobia as crowds pressed in around their vehicle; you felt the doubt as the maid was questioned at the gate. I don’t want to be guilty of any spoilers, but I believe the way every aspect of the character interactions was handled was pitch perfect.

I have to admit that the ad campaign may have been a detriment to Argo. Some of the previews we’d seen started off portraying it as this serious, intense period piece, based on real events. Then, the previews flipped and turned comic, while people joked about picking the best bad option they had, and their determination to make a fake hit if they were going to make a fake movie. In reality, all of those lines and aspects of the movie come off far better in the film than they did in the previews. The seriousness of the subject matter was not watered down in any way; the occasional jokes were always underscored with just how real the situation was, and what was on the line. Some of the touches – such as the script reading, and having the waiter walk back to the kitchen, where a TV played scenes from Iran on the news – expertly connected the plot points and maintained the tension.

Now, it isn’t often that I see a film that makes me feel the need to touch on the criticism surrounding it. However, ARGO did garner some criticism from Canadians, who felt the role of the Canadian Ambassador was minimized in the film.

I am Canadian. I am married to an American. I have only seen the version of the film released to theaters, and can’t speak on any earlier version.

I think this is a story that is based on a true story, with the key word being based. It is not an actual, exact telling of the events. It is a dramatized telling. My personal feeling is that the movie does credit to all. If anyone is neglected, in reality, it was Tony Mendez. The movie even effectively pokes a bit of fun at that fact.

What shouldn’t get lost in the equation is that this is a tremendous story, that is even more compelling because of the fact that it was based on true events, and that people came together to save these six Americans. It doesn’t matter if the people were American or Canadian, although I would point out, at risk of a slight spoiler, that, at least in this movie version, there was at least one Iranian who deserved credit as well, and instead ended up displaced; a refugee.

My husband’s step-grandparents were actually in Iran in the late 70s, and were amongst the last to get out with their belongings in tact. We’ve heard a couple stories. I’ve witnessed history by visiting East Berlin when the wall came down, and I went to North Africa not long after 9/11, which had its own risks at the time. ARGO made those stories we’ve heard come alive. After seeing ARGO, I can understand why a couple in their early 90s still talks about Iran in the late 70s to this day.

I’ve seen a lot of films this year, including Savages, The Hunger Games, and Looper. All of those films were worth the price of admission; all were films I’d recommend. However, ARGO stands head and shoulders above the competition this year. There are only select movies I go to see in the theater, and of those, only a handful that I buy the DVD for. The number of movies I want to see in a theater a second time is absolutely miniscule, and this movie is already on that list.

As an aside, here at Spinetingler, we’re all fans of Bryan Cranston and Breaking Bad, and it’s nice to see him on the big screen, in a role that’s just about as far from Walter White as you can imagine.

I actually don’t follow many directors. A reputed director may be what puts me over the line in deciding on a film I’ve been iffy about; however, having seen all of the full-length films he’s directed, whatever he puts out next will be a must-see. The only question I have after seeing ARGO is how do I get Affleck to read HARVEST OF RUINS? The man is a genius, and I will be surprised and disappointed if this film doesn’t earn him Oscar nods for Best Film and Director, at the very least.

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Spinetingler Staff

Spinetingler's Fiction Editor is a former newspaper reporter and author of five crime novels from Down and Out Books. His short fiction has been published on the web at BEAT TO A PULP, A TWIST OF NOIR and THE BIG ADIOS.

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About Spinetingler Staff

Spinetingler's Fiction Editor is a former newspaper reporter and author of five crime novels from Down and Out Books. His short fiction has been published on the web at BEAT TO A PULP, A TWIST OF NOIR and THE BIG ADIOS.

2 Replies to “Review: ARGO – the must-see film of 2012?”

  1. It was terrific. And I thought it was very clever to use Goodman and Arkin for a bit of comic relief from the tension overseas. The audience I was with applauded several times. How often do you see that? Yay, Canada.

  2. The audience was clapping where we were as well. Lots of good laughs, too, at the appropriate times. The levity worked well in the midst of all that tension.