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‘Argo’ lives up to Best Picture hype

Dylan Dobson, 4Play Editor
March 27, 2013
Filed under 4Play

The year is 1979. The famous Hollywood sign is in ruin and tensions are high between the U.S. and Iran as a result of the Cold War. As the Iranian Revolution begins, the U.S. embassy in Tehran is left under siege by militants. Although 50 people from the embassy are taken hostage, six manage to escape, finding refuge at the home of a Canadian ambassador.

In order to rescue the six escapees, the CIA begins financing a science fiction film titled “Argo” in the style of “The Planet of the Apes.” This film, after which the 2013 Academy Award winner is named, is simply a ruse — a front for the Iranian rescue mission.

“Argo” the film and not the film-within-the-film, is not a typical intrigue drama. Instead, it is one part wartime thriller, one part suspense action film and one part caper. The script is presented with forked tongue humor and riveting editorial narrative that contrasts the suspense and tension of the plot.

Animated segments and period footage are used to fill in the tightly woven scenes connecting the government workers attempting to rescue the Americans from Iran and those trapped at the home of the Canadian ambassador. The result is a comic book-like narrative where these brief scenes act like panels, moving the action from scene to scene at a brisk pace.

This expert use of editing is what places Argo ahead of its competition and is likely a large part of why the film beat out other nominees such as “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty” for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Ben Affleck seems to be giving his best impersonation of Keanu Reeves with his portrayal of CIA specialist Tony Mendez. He is supported by a capable cast of well-known character actors. Bryan Cranston continues his race toward Hollywood domination with his portrayal of Mendez’s supervisor, while John Goodman puts forth some of his best work in years as an eccentric film makeup artist.

The strength of both the cast and the film’s editing is more than enough to keep viewers’ attention. Despite the dry subject matter, there is never a moment where the film seems to drag on. Instead, the wheels of conflict are greased more and more as the chattering of talking heads on radios and television screens in the background assures the audience of the six escapee’s impending doom.

The film ends in a crescendo of action interlaced between an office, a home and an airport.  However, the ultimate resolution comes across as inappropriately silly considering the stakes, due by and large to an impromptu film pitch session given by one of the escapees to an Iranian guard. However, the light-hearted inclusion of such movies is used so frequently during the film’s initial acts and the subject matter is so strange that most audiences probably won’t even bat an eye at the scene.

Argo delivers on its critical acclaim. The film is smart, engaging and a must-see for fans of any of the multiple genres it seamlessly blends.