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Monday Morning Movie Club: Did Argo Live Up to the Hype?

BEN AFFLECK as Tony Mendez in “ARGO”

Argo is currently sitting pretty with a 94 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes (New York's David Edelstein called it "an irresistible blend of cool realism and Hollywood hokum") and a respectable $20 million opening weekend. "It's so much fun!" said essentially everyone who had seen it. But was it as much fun as you were promised? Did Argo live up to its rave reviews, or were you slightly disappointed to learn that [spoiler alert] pretty much everything went as planned? While we're vaguely on the subject, how about that beard? The Monday (late) Morning Movie Club is in effect!

"Argo fuck yourself!"
Is this the line of the year? Could be, and they definitely repeat it enough times in the movie to suggest they knew what they had! But who can blame them? Not only is it fun to say, but you get to imagine you're Alan Arkin while saying it, since he put the best spin on it. Speaking of which …

All hail Alan Arkin.
Arkin's getting the most Oscar heat for his supporting role as faded (but still feisty) producer Lester Siegel, and rightly so: He's got the best dialogue, sure, but he also imbues each scene with subtle poignancy, like Lester is taking stock of himself near the end of his life and realizing in which areas he's come up short. (It's almost like Affleck took his cue from Arkin on how much to push the deadbeat-dad aspect that gives Argo its emotional underpinnings: Just enough so people know it's there and not a single step further.) And that sequence where Lester attempts to secure a script, is told he's too much of a has-been, and then finds a way to flip the tables and come out ahead? It's almost as much of a triumphant win as Argo's final runway sequence.

But let's talk about that porch scene at the end.
We could go on and on about the pacing and general efficiency of Argo — except for the last ten minutes, in which Affleck tacks on some (fictional) Mendez family drama and conjures a forgiving wife out of thin air. It was like someone broke into the edit bay and recorded 30 seconds of the Hallmark Channel over the final cut. Sure, the father-son resolution is necessary once you've introduced that plotline, and it's very cute to watch Affleck reading to small children, but how did the wife get in there? Are we supposed to believe that she just has a sixth sense for international heroism and just somehow knew about the totally top secret mission? Most important: Why is this scene in the film at all? Was the real story about rescuing six hostages with a fake movie plot not enough?

That hostage casting was excellent.
Argo is an ensemble movie with roughly a million billion speaking parts, roughly 90 percent of which are given to white men with bad hair in unflattering clothes. So basically, it's a credit to Affleck and his casting director that they managed to find so many unique faces that pop through those period trappings, especially since it's a swirly edited movie that's counting on you to remember who's who. Of particular interest are the hostages, well cast with veteran actors (Tate Donovan! Clea DuVall!) and relative newcomers, including Scoot McNairy as the hostage most hostile to Affleck's plan. You'll next see McNairy in the Brad Pitt movie Killing Them Softly, where he's playing a totally different character: a scummy lowlife with a thick Boston accent who's a dead ringer for Affleck's younger brother, Casey.

Ben Affleck sure does look good in seventies-wear.
We have already outlined the career-reviving powers of Ben Affleck's Blockbuster beard, but if we might speak aesthetically for a moment: It works! As did the snazzy sport jacket and that one perfectly snug polo shirt that he wore toward the beginning. Shaggy Affleck: This is a look we can get behind.

Are you ready for Argo 2: Wiretap Cats?
A short but not unimportant excerpt from the Wired article that inspired Argo: "Mendez had spent 14 years in the CIA’s Office of Technical Service — the part of the spy shop known for trying to plant explosives in Fidel’s cigars and wiring cats with microphones for eavesdropping." That is a sequel idea if we've ever read one.

Photo: Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros