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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Team America, World Police!, December 3, 2012
This review is from: Argo [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
If you ever wondered where in God's name Trey Parker and Matt Stone got the idea for Team America: World Police, look no further than Argo, the mostly true story of how the CIA confounded a crazed Eastern dictator using the only weapon powerful enough to ensure justice prevails against even the darkest of evils: Hollywood.

"ACT, GARY!"

This is a solidly constructed and handsomely directed picture, and its attention to detail, even to the extent of a period-correct crackly Warner brothers title card, is consistently wondrous. The seventies `taches and comb-overs are spot on. The cinematography is impressive: the grainy, orangey colours look like real original seventies newsreel footage, and you only realise they can't be when a 747 flies overhead tracked on a static camera which must be a couple of thousand feet in midair. That is very, very sympathetically rendered CGI indeed.

Ben Affleck has his hands full, co-producing and directing as well as taking the lead role: he is Tony Mendez, a CIA field agent who specialises in "exfiltration" of vulnerable American nationals from iffy foreign situations. They don't get iffier than the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. In a frenetic dramatisation of the initial storming we see embassy staff dumbfounded that their walls could possibly be breached ("but we're technically on American soil!") and stunned that the Iranian police wouldn't come to sort the situation out for them.

Ultimately 52 of the American Embassy staff were caught and held hostage for 444 days. What is less well-known is that six others had the bright idea of scarpering out the back door as the students stormed the front, escaping to the questionable sanctuary of a foreign city of 4 million people whom would like nothing better than "to pour American blood on their cornflakes".

Having been turned away by the Brits, the Swedes and the Kiwis they wind up as reluctant house guests of the only westerners who'll take them in: the Canadian ambassador and his wife.

Meanwhile, back in Quantico, CIA subsection chief Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) is put in charge of working out what to do now. His best guy is Mendez. Mendez' idea, even though the best by a long shot, is a total stinker: have the six pretend to be a Canadian film crew scouting for locations for a sci fi movie, in revolutionary Iran. It beat "cycling 300 mountainous miles to the Turkish border in the middle of winter", which was the other option.

Early stages are worked as a skilful drama: There is a clever juxtaposition of the Iranian students' trumped up show trial of the American hostages on spying against a public script reading in Hollywood for the titular sci fi film. The preparation for the phoney film is a comedy masterclass from John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a pair of Hollywood old hands brought in to make a credible backstory.

Affleck is the epitome of the no nonsense, unflappable field agent. He also rocks superb facial hair that he really should keep.

Despite the machinations of the State Department, the film caper never quite gets nixed, and Mendez goes in to Tehran. Now the film enters overdrive: the Iranians have twigged that six diplomats are missing and are running down every angle. We fret that the Canadians' domestic help may have twigged too, and spilled beans. It becomes a race against the clock, with a couple of great set pieces, one of which is in Tehran's grand bazaar (deputised for by Istanbul's bazaar, which with Taken 2 and Skyfall has hosted its fair share of blockbusters recently).

Affleck's depiction of the Iranian revolutionaries is sympathetic (that is, more "Arrec Barwin" than Spottiswood), it being made clear at the outset that the real villain was the Shah, his presence on American soil being what precipitated the situation in the first place.

There are the odd unnecessary tropes: a daybreak shot of the grand mosque as the Muezzin calls the faithful to prayer makes an uncalled-for appearance, and Affleck can't resist the temptation to over-cheese the ending, but these small faults aside, with a fine ensemble cast ably supported by Goodman and Arkin's comic relief, and assured directing and cinematography, this is well worth its two hours' running time.

Olly Buxton
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 15, 2013 1:46:20 AM PST
England says:
The Brits did not turn them away. They were taken in by the British Embassy but it was deemed unsafe for them to remain so the British and New Zealanders arranged for them to go to the Canadian embassy. Why does Holywood hate us Brits so much?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 2:49:17 PM PST
Olly Buxton says:
It's the cut glass accent. It's unbeatably villainous: Christopher Lee, Anthony Hopkins, Malcolm McDowall. Just superbly, cinematically, villainous.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013 5:49:30 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013 5:49:52 PM PST
snad11dogs says:
@ England. I can't answer for Hollywood, but I just wanted to say not everyone hates the Brits----your country has a lot of amazing actors/actresses (among other great things) and I, for one, have several favorite Brit actors/actresses and greatly appreciate all of them.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 23, 2013 6:35:58 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 23, 2013 7:03:03 AM PST
G-Man says:
Nice to read that the New Zealanders did not just callously turn them away as Olly/Affleck (?) might have us believe, but instead sorted something out for them along with the Brits. I haven't seen this film yet or investigated this stuff, but as a New Zealander (I hate "Kiwi", just as I imagine an Irish person might dislike being referred to as a "Potato" or a German person "Kraut"), I'm glad to hear that the New Zealand Embassy were careful, considerate and effective.

Oh, and Olly, is there anything about New Zealanders and/or their voices that you think lends itself to their portrayal naturally and realistically in world cinema/media as untrustworthy disloyal scum or is that just coincidental and specific to this film's story ?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2013 12:48:06 AM PST
Olly Buxton says:
Ahh, Mr. G-Man; if it isn't New Zealand's national inferiority complex, personified!

I am most gratified to see you find it worth your while to scour all my reviews looking for things to take offence at. To save you the time of trolling through the rest of them (there are nearly five hundred!) here are some highlights that will have you boiling righteously in your britches:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3BP73GYWVG1GD
http://www.amazon.com/review/R2JMH1R83C3GJ4
http://www.amazon.com/review/R2ZLJ9UXW0I767

This time you seem to have reached high dudgeon over my casual mention of the myopic, defenceless, flightless bird that has somehow become our country's national symbol around the world (though the imputation of "untrustworthy disloyal scum" is all your own work.)

Now, were I the defensive kind, I could claim reportage: "kiwis" was, as I recall, the exact expression Bryan Cranston's character used, for those 5 seconds in which New Zealand assumed any relevance in this film at all. A film, by the way, about geopolitical events of an order far grander than any in which a sparsely populated South Pacific island could dream of real involvement.

But there's no need for that: I am reviewing a film, not mounting a one-man sulk on behalf of a country which, frankly, has absolutely no need for one.

Man up, G-Man.

Olly
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