Argo - Blu-ray Review

'Argo lives and dies on you identifying with the characters as a group that needs to be saved. Look closer and the need for, say, Kathy to survive individually disappears.'

Like many Academy Award Best Picture winners, Argo proves to not be the best film of the year, but a very good film with elements and circumstances that conspired to make it a victor of a political battle, at times little related to film-making quality. Ben Affleck's supposed 'snub' in the Best Director stakes certainly meant that well-intentioned sympathies ran wildly towards it, whilst the subject matter (rose-tinted Hollywood helps a group of 'our boys' make it out alive) plays right into the hands of your average Academy vote caster.

Affleck's third feature as Director, Argo again shows his predilection for picking and/or writing material with a certain level of tension that elevates it from the level of an average Thriller; the genre he has exclusively worked in to this point. In The Town, this tension went a little awry and the predictable elements started to creep back in (notably at the end). In Gone Baby Gone it was note perfect. Here, the tension is back, clearly taking centre stage in the final act, which though not quite as revolutionary as has been claimed, is still a solid example of providing a satisfying pay-off without substantially reducing threat levels.

That finale is the peak of what is arguably a four-act structure, potentially the film's greatest strength. From within such a clearly planned-out timescale, Affleck moves us step-by-step from point-to-point, holding our hand in familiar ways, whilst his characters adjust at four new turns. From the initial setup (which is handled quickly), to the creation of the fake film, to the preparation for escape, to the escape itself; this is a film that knows how to avoid stasis and excels in fast and varied plot movements, towards clearly identified character objectives.

If that sounds a little cold - almost like business-speak - then it is because, at times, Argo can feel somewhat chilly. There is an attempt to give the potential escapees rounded characteristics and broad-stroke archetypes (Scoot McNairy is the argumentative one, Tate Donovan is the reluctant leader, etc., etc.) but never is there really anything to make you feel sympathetic towards them individually. Argo lives and dies on you identifying with them as a group that needs to be saved. Look closer and the need for, say, Kathy (Kerry Bishé) to survive individually disappears.

What heart there is comes, unsurprisingly, from Hollywood. It's hard not to feel a deal of misty admiration towards Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who get the best parts of the script which, in their company, takes a significant turn towards Comedy. Arkin in particular excels as a chaotic curmudgeon, spraying anecdotes faster than Lincoln sprayed boring speeches. The light touch of these segments was greatly needed, though they do little to correct the character depth issues elsewhere.

As a stand-alone Thriller though, Argo occupies a neglected niche in modern Hollywood, a niche which it is vital to preserve. This cornerstone of the film industry produced many of its better films. Many of today's could better themselves by looking towards it. In that regard, it is entirely appropriate that Affleck's film, which looks at Hollywood in more ways than one, should be rewarded by the very people it seeks to celebrate.

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