Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. There are a lot of good movies hitting theaters this weekend. Seven Psychopaths and Smashed are both fantastic films, but leading the pack, in my opinion, is Ben Affleck’s Argo.
On the surface Argo is a straightforward political suspense thriller, but what makes it special is the subtext which at once lampoons movies and celebrates them as an important artform.
I’m a big make up effects fan, so I did know the broad the strokes of this story going in thanks to the involvement of Planet of the Apes’ John Chambers, but I was ignorant of the details. In my brain, knowing Chambers’ involvement, I thought maybe he did some sweet make-up tricks to help sneak past the Iranian guards or something…
Speaking of, I always wondered if the government ever calls on guys like Rick Baker to totally transform operatives… I mean, I know that the make up process is long and difficult, but I’m just saying that if you can turn Benicio del Toro into a werewolf and Eddie Murphy into about 27583 different people over the course of about 4 movies you can hide a secret spy pretty damn well.
Anyway, sorry for getting sidetracked. That kind of weird shit jumbles around in my brain a lot.
Like I said, Argo is pretty straight forward. A group of American embassy employees are trapped in a hostile Iran and the CIA has to work with the Canadians who are hiding them to get ‘em out before they are discovered and publicly murdered as spies. Ben Affleck is a “Moses,” a CIA guy who specializes extracting people from hostel situations and he’s the one who comes up with the Hollywood plan to pose as a film crew on a location scout.
If this idea came about as a piece of fiction, people would have called it a stretch, but the fact that it’s a true story lets us focus on the truly incredible minds that came together to execute this operation.
John Goodman is a standout (when is he not, honestly?) as John Chambers, longtime ally to the CIA and one of the most influential make-up men in Hollywood’s history. He’s Affleck’s Yoda, guiding him through the business, helping him set up a believable fake sci-fi film that would hold up to scrutiny when the Iranian government investigates the production. And like Yoda, Goodman’s Chambers guides with a wicked sense of humor, which is crucial in a film as dire and tense as this one is.
Production design, shot selection, casting, cinematography and direction all contribute to a drama that revels in being made for adults instead of being ashamed of it. It’s also confident enough to be fun when it needs to be, which was a trait the best of the ‘70s political thrillers embraced as well. As serious a topic as the Watergate scandal was, All The President’s Men has some really funny shit in it.
Show me a drama that is comfortable toying with comedy and I’ll show you a director confident in his abilities and material. Affleck’s directorial voice is more laid back than his work in Gone Baby Gone and The Town, which are both extremely good movies and, like, Argo, harken back to a different era of filmmaking, but I get the feeling with this one that Affleck’s hit his groove.
You can feel he’s comfortable, confident and, dare I say, having a good time and that translates. As heavy as the material is, and it is treated seriously, it takes a keen hand and sharp mind to make this story move in such an engaging way.
Affleck’s choice of cast is crucial to that end. The ensemble, yes including Affleck himself, is so damn good that it gives me hope that we’re entering a new age of the character actor. Another release this weekend, Seven Psychopaths, is another example of great character actors dominating a film and that makes me smile. Let’s hope it’s a trend.
I wasn’t going to do it, but what the hell? I like roll calls. This movie has John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, Rory Cochrane, Richard Kind, Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Parks (playing Jack Kirby, no less), Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, Philip Baker Hall and Bob Gunton. Some of them get one line, some of them are huge parts of the story, but all of them weave the fabric of an incredibly believable and intense period thriller.
Argo is proving to me to be one of those films that you really like when you leave the theater and the more you think about it, pick at it and examine it the more impressive an accomplishment it is.
So, throw another positive review on the massive stack of glowing Argo reviews. I also want to discuss Seven Psychopaths, but that’ll have to wait until tomorrow. (Preview: I like it a lot. Walken!). Stay tuned!