Monday, October 15, 2012

Jason watches ARGO

And at least for the next week or so the word "exfiltration" and the line "Ar-go f*ck yourself!" will be forefront in my mind.

It's a really good movie, and Ben Affleck is showing himself to have greater skills as a director than as an actor. As an actor, even with the central hero role, Affleck doesn't give himself much more to do than sit and look like he's thinking really, really hard. But I do love that he put himself in the lead, if for no other reason than to see John Goodman tell him that a monkey could learn to be a director in a day.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you've seen the trailers, you know it's a story about the Iranian revolution of 1979, about the American hostages, and specifically about the 6 embassy workers who fled out the back and holed up in the Canadian ambassador's residence. And it's about the daring and improbable mission to rescue them (or, in CIA-speak, "exfiltrate" them.) Enter exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck) who sees no good ideas available. The State Department wants to send them bicycles to bike to the Turkish border. No good, too far, and too difficult to pass until the spring. Other plans include cover ID's as Canadian teachers (but all foreign teachers had already left Iran) or as crop inspectors making sure there's enough food for the starving kids (but what crops would they be inspecting in winter when there's a cover of frost?) So, while watching a PLANET OF THE APES movie and talking to his son, Tony gets the crazy idea to pass them all off as a film crew scouting locations in the Middle East, looking to make a low-budget sci-fi film. John Goodman enters the picture as special effects makeup guru John Chambers--not that there's much need for makeup effects, he's just their contact because he's done contract work for the CIA before. He knows the ins and outs of Hollywood, and his first step is to get a producer on board. That would be Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, who's as brilliant as always) and they set up Studio 6 productions (named for the 6 people they're rescuing) and set out to secure the rights to a script and really drum up press notice for their fake film.

This is all based on a true story, and it's not a true story of 6 people who died trying to do something incredibly stupid. So you know how it's going to end. Which makes it all the more remarkable how Affleck managed to crank up the tension to the point I was really afraid of whether or not they would make it. And, at the same time, he throws a bit of Hollywood satire in there to break the tension. I'm sure some scenes were ramped up a little bit for extra drama (if you've seen the movie, the phone call to Studio 6 stood out for me this way) but it never feels phony or forced, it's just classic, tense storytelling.

Running Time: 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,257

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