Thursday, October 18, 2012

Argo

Argo
seen @ Jamaica Multiplex Cinemas, Jamaica, Queens, NY
10.16.12

Ben Affleck always struck me as a likable actor. I remember him, of course, from his Kevin Smith movies, in particular, Chasing Amy. I related strongly to his character in that film, so perhaps it's no surprise that I would take an interest in Affleck's movies following that one. The fact that he was a comics fan certainly helped. I was certainly glad to see him and Matt Damon win the Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting, even though I personally thought Boogie Nights was the better screenplay that year.

After that highlight, though, his career went on a different path. It seems like he became the glamor boy of lots of trashy, big-budget flicks, chief among them, of course, being Armageddon, and while I didn't necessarily begrudge him all that much for making these movies, I think it was when he was with Jennifer Lopez and was in all the gossip rags that he became tiresome for me - and a lot of other people, I imagine.



So seeing him reinvent himself as a director - a quality one, to boot - is quite exciting. Gone Baby Gone and The Town were both enjoyable and thrilling on their own, but with Argo, it's like Affleck elevated his game to the next level. It's based on a true story, and so we know that the good guys will win in the end, but that makes it no less awesome to watch.

What I find most inspiring about Affleck as a director is the kind of movies he makes. You may recall that earlier this year, Warners allegedly wanted him to direct their proposed Justice League movie. There's no doubt in my mind that he could make it good: it would be an ensemble, like all of his films; it would take advantage of exotic locations, like Argo; there would be big action sequences, like in The Town, and it's comics, which he is certainly no stranger to. (Speaking of which, did you know about Jack Kirby's connection to Argo?) Could he have elevated the material, the way Christopher Nolan did with the Batman movies? I wouldn't rule it out, though, let's be honest: few filmmakers are in Nolan's class.



As it turned out, however, Justice League wasn't on Affleck's slate, and after seeing Argo, I'm even more grateful for that. In an industry becoming more and more dominated by fanboy fantasy that caters more and more towards undiscriminating foreign audiences, Affleck dares to not only make intelligent, truly adult movies, but he makes them for mass audiences, the way Hollywood used to do, not all that long ago. 

I admire him for that. I admire the fact that he has (so far) resisted the urge to make a movie like Justice League - because, let's face it, the fanboys will see that no matter who's directing it. Affleck's going down the path less traveled, and in Hollywood, that takes guts. On top of all that, he chooses to still shoot on film instead of digital.



As for Argo itself... well, my memories of the Iran hostage crisis are vague. I do remember Walter Cronkite counting the days the hostages were in captivity, and though I didn't fully understand the situation (I was a kid!), I knew it wasn't good. I've learned more about Iran since then, of course; movies like Persepolis and A Separation have helped loads on that score. Argo shows footage of the anti-Iranian sentiment that went through America during the crisis. Some of it was really disturbing, and sadly, awfully familiar to the anti-Iraqi sentiment that we went through in the weeks and months following September 11.

Like I said, we know that this rescue mission will succeed because it's part of history, but watching it unfold in this movie, it genuinely feels like an edge-of-your-seat experience. Affleck has said in interviews that one of the toughest things about making Argo was finding the right balance between the rescue mission stuff and the more comedic Hollywood stuff, and I believe he did find the balance. I expected the Hollywood elements to come across like a version of The Player, but it's not that broad.


The fake "Argo" movie definitely sounds like the kind of thing that would've come out in the wake of Star Wars, like Logan's Run or Flash Gordon, only without the literary pedigree. I can even imagine discovering it on cable TV or on VHS as a teenager, only to be embarrassed I ever liked it years later. That's never anything I'd say about the real Argo, though. I hope Affleck continues to make many more movies in this vein.

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