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'Argo'has good acting, but lacks enough strong action

Oct. 19, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

I'm a fan of "Argo" director Ben Affleck ("Good Will Hunting," "The Town," "Daredevil"), but had mixed feelings about this new movie.

I know it limits you when you do a film on a true life event, but this movie was kind of slow. The actual escape of six U.S. Foreign Service workers just after the fall of Tehran in 1979 probably had many exciting moments. The tension was probably so thick you could cut it with a scimitar, but the movie failed to convey enough of that to me.

It wouldn't have been so bad, except that the entire movie is supposed to hinge on the tension of the whole endeavor.

It didn't help that I knew in advance how it would turn out. Even though the escape has been declassified for the whole world to see, I knew nothing about the story until they made this movie. I suspect that was the case of most of the others sitting in the theater with me.

If the trailers (and the "buzz") had not given away the fact that they all got away unharmed, I would have been more interested in the outcome. I am glad that no one was killed, tortured or injured; it's just that the movie would have better entertained me if I was left in the dark.

Also, the attempt by Affleck to find and display a nail-biter situation seemed a bit hokey, especially in the final chase scene where the escapees are within inches of the Iranians capturing them as they depart.

I know that I'm complaining, on one hand, that there wasn't enough action, and then am unhappy, on the other, when the movie attempts to add some, but it is just too artificial.

Another problem was the anonymity of the six diplomats. There was not enough backstory on any one (or as a group) of them, to make me care about them that much. I won't go so far as to call "Argo" the Feel Nothing Movie of the Year, but I didn't really get to care much about the group.

I was concerned more about the possible repercussions against the Canadian ambassador than about the Americans. This may (subliminally or not) have been because he was played by a recognizable actor, Victor Garber ("Alias," "Titanic," "Milk"), who is always a great second tier performer.

It seemed as though the powers that be were more concerned about the six diplomats resembling the six real life participants and not about getting known actors to portray them. I think it backfired.

As far as the acting, the star power players were very good.

Beside Affleck as C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez, television star Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad," "Malcolm in the Middle," "Little Miss Sunshine") played a great role as Mendez's boss, Jack O'Donnell.

Veteran movie star Alan Arkin ("Catch-22," "Wait Until Dark," "Little Miss Sunshine") does great as movie big shot Lester Siegel, and adds immensely to the humorous part of the movie. So does comedic actor John Goodman ("Roseanne," "The Big Lebowski") who plays movie insider John Chambers, who works with the C.I.A. from time to time. He and Arkin do better work on the comedy end than Affleck does on the suspense side.

It's a good movie, but not a great one. The movie squeezes good performances from the main actors but the action scenes are average and the intermingling of the shots with actual footage of the 1979 hostage situation is annoying.

The writing is crisp, and the humor makes for some of the best parts.

With more emotional story for the escapees and less "watch Tony worry," it could have worked. Perhaps, if Affleck had directed it more as a caper movie, it would have worked better. That would have been disloyal to those who lived through the ordeal, but it would have made it more satisfying for the audience.

It may not have been as accurate, although it would have been more entertaining. As it turned out, it was more informative than entertaining, like a documentary with action scenes inserted.

Done with less seriousness, it might have gotten going at a faster pace with better snap. It was like "Raid on Entebee" without the bloodshed. It tells a true story, in the way true stories usually happen, with almost no John Wayne moments, no fight scenes and no fanfare.

It was as though Affleck was looking for a movie to direct and "Argo" was best bad idea he had.

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.