Took The Beloved Spouse to see Argo over the weekend. Good, solid, picture with a well-written script, excellent casting, and solid performances throughout. There was the usual amount of license taken, most of which was understandable, given the constraints of time and how much the audience could be expected to keep in their heads in a fast-moving plot. The ending got a bit Hollywood, but the movie as a whole holds up well.
What you’ll remember are the performances. Bryan Cranston as a CIA manager and Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador hit all the right notes, character actors who have been around forever getting a chance to shine. The movie would be worth seeing just to watch John Goodman and Alan Arkin, two old pros who, fortunately, share virtually all their scenes, as they’d steal them from anyone else. Every time they appear is great fun. Ben Affleck—a better actor than he’s generally given credit for—keeps his CIA exfiltration expert understated and believable throughout.
What Argo does best, and what most thrillers would do well to emulate, is use humor to keep the tension moving between peaks and valleys. Not gags, or Schwarzenegger-ian catch phrases—though the catch phrase they use is spot on—but the humor of witty men under pressure. Applied with a delicate brush, the laughs are genuine and the contrast helps to accentuate the seriousness of the overall situation.
The ending was juiced more than it had to be, and there were ways they could have acknowledged the contributions of Great Britain, New Zealand, and Canada without complicating matters too much, but as a movie it’s a fascinating look at one of the great rescue missions of (most of) our lifetimes. Director Affleck acknowledges Canadian cooperation in an end note, but the British and Kiwis are openly disparaged in the film, for no good reason.
That being said, I’m a little puzzled by some of the over-the-top receptions Argo has received. It’s good, but I’ve read reviews that make it sound like voting for the Oscar is a formality. It might win, and far worse movies have won, but if it does it will be more of a reflection of a relatively weak year than of the timeless brilliance of Argo. It’s an entertaining two hours, and worth ten bucks as much as any other movie you’ll find. Let’s not get carried away, is all.