Monday, October 15, 2012

MOVIE OF THE WEEK/OSCAR WATCH: Argo


If you've been following the film festival circuit, you've probably heard a lot about the success of "Argo". As a result, the film came in to its wide release with ridiculously high expectations. I think this may be the film’s biggest hurdle going into the awards season. The marketing promises a riveting thriller, but that’s not entirely accurate. The film is divided into 2 distinct halves, made even more apparent to me due to my theater's traditional midpoint intermission.
The narrative of the film surrounds 6 persons who escape a raid of Iran's American embassy by local protesters. After this introduction though, the first half becomes your typical procedural drama. It got me thinking "this movie is good, but I don’t see what’s so special about it". Due to the high expectations and the marketing strategy, this section of the film feels very slow. It’s not exactly boring, but you keep waiting for something exciting to happen. It’s all exposition and set-up for the mission ahead. Luckily, we have Alan Arkin. This veteran actor brings a much needed spark to this part of the film. He’s delivers the humour with some great zingers that make him a memorable presence throughout, even though we don’t really see him in the 2nd half.
As the movie moves into this 2nd half, that’s when it really becomes the great film that everyone is raving about. The film is based on the true story of an exfiltration plan to free American hostages under the guise of a fake film production. It’s a crazy idea, but as they say in the film, "it’s the best bad idea they have". The Americans are hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s home in revolutionary Iran, while protesters demand the release of a former corrupt leader. When the group of hostages go on a location scout, it really hits home how risky and dangerous the plan is. You can practically feel the tension mounting. The actual escape features some of the most intense, nerve-wracking scenes you can imagine. I literally couldn't stop my right leg from shaking, and as I looked across the aisle I noticed another guy was experiencing the same too! Thankfully, we could all breathe easy at the end, as the film really delivers a satisfying conclusion.

Of course, I can’t review this movie without getting into some Oscar talk. From most accounts, this film has been hailed as a directing triumph for Ben Affleck. For me, it was all about the screenplay. It’s a dense script that forces you to pay attention to every line of dialogue. It’s a shoe-in for a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination and could quite easily win the prize.
With regards to Affleck’s lead role and directing contribution, I found he had a very humble acting and directing style that really didn't draw attention to himself. He really lets the story and his ensemble cast take the spotlight and I highly respect him for that. I doubt he will be a significant contender for a Best Actor nomination, but he will very likely be nominated for Best Director. The way he builds up the tension to that boiling point ending will definitely earn him lots of accolades. Another strong point is the film’s editing. It’s really impressive how the relatively dull first half never loses your attention, while the ending truly gets your heart racing. It’s an indication of the film’s remarkable pacing and structure. Hence, I think the Academy will definitely respond with a nod for Best Editing.
As I mentioned before, the first half is Arkin’s movie. His line delivery really makes him shine. He is being touted as a top contender to ultimately win the Oscar, but I can’t help but wonder if the Academy will recognize the difficulty required for the role. Furthermore, I think his success is largely due to the strength of the script and there’s also the fact that he doesn’t have much screen time when the movie shifts its focus to Tehran. All things considered, his line delivery is ace and I could definitely see him picking up a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Overall, there’s no denying that this is a well-made film. Apart from the aspects I've already mentioned, I really love the period details. You really feel immersed in the film 70s setting. The film makes good use of old news footage and I was tickled by the various conversational references to the nature of Hollywood during that period. The old school Warner brothers opening title sequence was a nice touch too.

"Argo" is meticulously crafted from the hair, to the costumes to the sets. It’s easy to see why this is currently a frontrunner for Best Picture.
With regards to these other "tech" categories, it’s hard to tell how strong a contender it is. Like Affleck’s directing and acting, the cinematography, production design and costume design aren't exactly "showy". I think the sound work was solid though, so I will go ahead and predict nods for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. In terms of the music, it doesn't really stand out until the end, where it does a good job of providing atmosphere. I’m gonna hold off on a prediction for Best Original Score for now.
So to recap, I’m guessing this film will pick up a total of 7 Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. This awards season is off to a great start!

11 comments:

  1. Such a good review. I still expect much from this movie. Have not seen yet, but hope Theaters will bring Argo soon in my country :)

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    1. Thanks! I really hope you get to see it soon. I know that agonizing feeling of having to wait forever for films. Looper hasn't been released in my country yet and I don't even see it on the upcoming schedule.

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    2. Yes, that is a huge lifetime problem for me :D Especially it's hard when you have a movie blog and you want to review the film on-time, but don't get a chance to watch it quite long : )

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  2. Great review bud. It's a good film, no doubt about it, but I just couldn't get into it fully by the end once it was pretty obvious where the story was going. There is a lot to be interested and entertained by here, but nothing to the point of where I felt like I was watching a Best Picture right in front of my eyes.

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    1. I can understand that. It doesn't really go for the gravitas we normally expect from a Best Picture. Like I said in the review, because you know the ending will be the highlight of the film, the early parts don't grab you as much.

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  3. Great review! We completely agree that Affleck's direction and the tight screenplay make this such a nerve-wracking film even though the ending is already known. It's a testament to the skills involved by all.

    Btw, we love how you incorporate Oscar talk into your review. We agree on pretty much everything, even going so far as to say Affleck's the leading contender for Best Director yet. And while Arkin will def get a Supporting nom, we don't think he'll win it if Philip Seymour Hoffman goes for a Supporting nom instead of Lead Actor.

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    1. Thanks! There's definitely a lot of great aspects to the film. I also doubt Arkin will win Supporting Actor. I'm sure the category will be filled with guys with much bigger roles and he will lose out.

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  4. Excellent review! I am looking forward to this movie, both for the historical context and the cast. I am trying not to get too wrapped up in the hype. Sometimes that sets my expectations too high and ruins a movie for me. :)

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    1. Thanks Stephanie. I wish I could have avoided the crazy expectations too, but it's difficult if you follow a lot of Oscar bloggers. I doubt you will be too disappointed with this film though, even if it turns out not to be "the best thing since sliced bread".

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  5. Awesome review, and really solid Oscar picks. I loved this movie, and if it garners the seven nominations you predicted, that would be fantastic. Well deserved.

    Definitely curious to see if it racks up any acting noms.

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