Thursday, January 17, 2013

Argo (Ben Affleck)

Rescue 101: The Hollywood Way.

First, he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. And then, he went on to direct a fine adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel, which was then followed by a tense, Boston-set crime thriller. But despite all those, many are still quite unsure as to whether or not Ben Affleck is really more than just a pretty face and if he really is a capable filmmaker and screenwriter. This perception of him, of course, can mainly be attributed to cinematic abominations such as "Gigli" and "Pearl Harbor", both of which he had unfortunately starred in. Here then enters "Argo", a gripping thriller that may surely turn even the most extreme Affleck skeptics into instant believers. Well, although I won't completely go out of my way as to call Affleck a bad filmmaker, I'm honestly not that deeply awed of his directorial body of work prior to this film. Intrigued by what he can do, maybe, but not that much. But this time around, count me in as one of them converts; "Argo" is indeed an insanely great film.
Being a regular inhabitant at Cracked (a very intelligent comedy website), I was able to constantly scan through numerous well-written humor articles that tackle relatively obscure historical/political facts and stories. One of them, obviously, is the very story of "Argo" itself, which has fascinated me (and made me laugh at some point, naturally) to high heavens when I first read it. Yet weird enough, when "Argo" was released, I haven't the slightest idea that it is indeed about the said 'Cracked' article. Instead, what I thought the film will be is something akin to a mere stylistic copy of Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer". But boy was I wrong.
Packed with just the right amount of endearing characterization, tense sequences and moments of genuine humor, "Argo" is easily one of the best films of the year specifically because of how it has managed to be both politically compelling and entertaining at the same time, with great supporting performances by Alan Arkin and John Goodman (as the legendary Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers) to boot. As for Affleck's performance itself, it is, in no way, very memorable, especially when he's in scenes alongside Walter White, er, Bryan Cranston, who's just perfect in that bureaucratic CIA role. But even though Affleck's acting is not much of a revelation (his first choice for the role was not himself but Brad Pitt), the real star in this film is his inspired directorial effort; that and the beauty of 'science fiction' itself, which the film was able to subtly highlight.
Of course, with "Argo" being a politically-charged film, its closeness to the truth is surely a great question, especially in its depiction of the Iranian populace and the real role of Canada in the accomplishment of the rescue mission. But for me, "Argo" is really not much about politics. Instead, what I think the film is actually all about is how seemingly contradictory forces (the Hollywood and the Government; Canada and the USA) can do an almost miraculous difference, all with the help of a make-believe planet and some storyboard aliens.
Like 2011's "Hugo", "Argo", although very sublimely at that, is a tribute to the power of movies, and how it's not just a medium where we're able to discover the intricacies of life, but one which can also save some. And who would have thought that it will be some cheaply-imagined science fiction tale that can do such? "Argo", despite its heavily political nature, is an understated celebration of the imagination.
For the longest time, the science fiction genre has been widely considered as the ultimate form of 'escape'. Indeed, in many cases, it actually is, what with its abundance of colorful interplanetary creatures, silver-clad heroes and interstellar adventures. But let's not forget that, for once, it was also instrumental for actually pulling off quite a literal one. "Argo", a stunningly inspired sleeper of a film, will forever remind us of that fact.


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