Sunday 25 November 2012

Review: Argo

Ben Affleck directs and stars as CIA agent Tony Mendez in his latest film Argo. Based on the true life events surrounding the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Argo tells the remarkable story of the joint mission between the CIA and the Canadian Government to rescue 6 US diplomats from Iran before they get found by the Iranian militants who are pursuing them after escaping from the attacked embassy. After an intense period of brainstorming, the team realise that no idea is a good idea, and the best worst idea that they have is to set up a fake Hollywood production for a fake sci-fi movie in order to get the stranded Americans out of Iran - but will such an outlandish plan be enough to safely rescue and return the endangered diplomats?

The most remarkable thing about Argo is the story itself; which based on real events is truly unbelievable. This true life element is the real driving force of the entire film. It is therefore important that the film is able to convey a sense of believability so that this comes across as strong as possible, and to a great extent Argo succeeds in doing so. The film itself - despite its fast paced, quick edit trailer - is actually a slow paced thriller that takes its time during the film’s major scenes and doesn’t deviate very far away from the events that actually occurred. Yet this is certainly not to be confused with a criticism of the film (although I did feel that there was a bit of a lull in the film’s second act where my attention began to drift slightly), in fact it was often the slower and less eventful scenes that actually stood out and stayed with me for being incredibly tense. This isn’t a film that appears to have been fictionalised to make it more exciting - there are no major action scenes thrown in to please the masses – this is a film that knows its source material and respects both it and the audience watching. And if there is any doubt in your mind about the film’s validity, moments during the end credit sequence that place screenshots from the film side by side with photos from the actual events show remarkable accuracy and really help to drive the point home.

Affleck's adaptation of 'Where's Wally' was controversial to say the least...

Obviously there is the danger that Argo could become a rather controversial piece considering the heavy Iranian presence – yet the film handles the subject matter very tastefully. Being an American film that follows a mostly American group of people, it is inevitable that the film will come from an American perspective, which is something that is often criticised in certain films (war films in particular) but something that I do not have a problem with – it merely reflects that element of the country and their national cinema, as would any number of other films from around the world. That’s not to say that the film wasn’t without a certain layer of Hollywood Schmaltz from time to time though. What I did however fear could happen was the potential for an unjust depiction of the entire Iranian population by forcing them into being portrayed inappropriately or insultingly as completely unrelatable villains, when actually I didn’t have a problem with that. The Iranians are of course depicted as the opposing side, but never entirely as ‘the bad guys’ though. This may however be because the film does divide its time with another area of the narrative – the Hollywood half of the plot.

What Argo does, and has been heralded by some for doing, is to combine comedy and thriller together into one film. Whilst the political thriller elements of the hostage situation are incredible tense, the scenes set largely in Hollywood as Affleck’s character attempts to stage a fake film production for a fake and very cheesy sci-fi film called ‘Argo’ are in fact the opposite and very funny (particularly so thanks to supporting roles from John Goodman and Alan Arkin). What did let this down however is the fact that the two never really gel together entirely; the film is either slow, tense and brooding in the Iranian sequences, or fast paced, funny and entertaining in the Hollywood sequences. Very rarely did I feel that the film was able to successfully incorporate the two tones together at the same time, which made the film feel almost like two completely different films happening at the same time, resulting in both of them feeling incomplete for being just half a film. This did have a negative effect on my feeling towards the film as a hole, as I never fully felt completely satisfied with the end result; a somewhat mish-mash film that couldn’t seem to decide what it really wanted to be.

Goodman and Arkin toast with their director to stealing the show!

Ben Affleck continues to create a solid directorial oeuvre with his latest film Argo, which tells a rather remarkable story that is partially let down by the film itself. Whilst it is certainly worth a watch to learn about the true events that inspired it - which are both tastefully and accurately brought to the big screen to create a believable, un-Hollywood-ised piece – the film’s unique mix of comedy and tension makes it an enjoyable watch but one that may leave you feeling a little underwhelmed considering the potential that such a film has. A very solid cast provide a very solid watch, but for a film that could have been heading towards awards season gold, it does feel a little under par.

Verdict: 4/5

Argo (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Argo? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Friday 23 November 2012

Review: Silver Linings Playbook

When Crazy Met Crazy...

Quirky indie rom-com Silver Linings Playbook sees Bradley Cooper playing Pat; a man recently freed from a mental hospital after attempting to overcome the undiagnosed bipolar disorder that came to light after catching his wife cheating on him. Living with his parents (played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro), Pat tries to get by in life without letting his illness stop him along the way; but when his world collides with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) - a young woman also suffering from mental illness after the death of her husband - the two kindle a new friendship that allow each other to overcome their disorders and fit back into the world.

Of course he's wearing a bin bag; it's a quirky rom-com, duh...

This latest film from director David O. Russell is about as bipolar from his previous film The Fighter as Cooper's character is within it; and is also just as much unlikely to win the coveted Oscar awards that it is predicted to be nominated for. That is not to say that the film is bad by any means, it just isn't award winning material, and it won't change your life - which is by no means a criticism! Silver Linings Playbook is a perfectly harmless piece of cinematic rom-com material that will suitably fill the appetite of those who are looking for that sort of film. Yet the often prestigious Weinstein production title and the awards season release do little to push the film into the realms of the extraordinary. This is a film that could see nominations coming its way early next year, but ultimately it's highly unlikely that the film will walk away with any awards at all.

But is that really a problem? No, not at all. Whilst the film isn't a game changer, it is certainly a refreshing release within the genre which adds a respectable layer to the film by dealing with the emotional hardships of two good-looking people suffering from mental illness; as opposed to just the emotional hardships of two good-looking people! Although the film doesn't delve quite as far into dealing with and examining the illnesses as much as I'd have liked it to, the film does tastefully approach them as to not offend anyone; and from time to time effective camera movements cleverly create uncomfortable and claustrophobic moments that allow you to momentarily jump inside the minds of these two lost souls as they try to confront the seemingly overwhelming world surrounding them. It's also important to point out that the film is funny too, and does inject a satisfying sense of humour into a tough subject matter in order to make it a satisfying watch.

Lawrence and Cooper rehearsing for the big dance - yes, it has a big dance too!

A solid cast do a sufficient job to bring the story to life, with Lawrence coming fresh out of very successful adaptation of The Hunger Games (of which I was reminded as she makes an intertextual quip about Lord of the Flies) stealing the show. Cooper does a satisfying job with a character who - after pissing around in two Hangover films (the third set for release next summer) - allows him to take on a more challenging role, although as the leading man I'd have liked to have seen him challenge the character even further (a fault, albeit, of the script partially). Robert De Niro provides a pleasant presence in the film, although equally disappointing with the film simultaneously reminding us that his glory days are well behind him now. Chris Tucker - who is supposedly being eyed up for the already rumoured Hollywood remake of this year's remarkable French film Untouchable - gives a glimmer of hope for the film with the actor effortless breathing life into his minor supporting character who also suffers from mental illness.

Despite the push for its awards season release date, Silver Linings Playbook is not a film that will set the world on fire, but one that provides a satisfyingly feel good rom-com experience that does delve into a slightly deeper realm by dealing with the challenging issues of mental illness. Yet whilst the film may leave you with a slight smile on your face and skip in your step, it would have been a far more fulfilling experience if it had been ballsy enough to take a much more challenging look into the life of those suffering from mental illness, which in turn would have made the film's pay off much more rewarding. For the fact that it avoids this, the film that could have been extraordinary falls disappointingly short; but Silver Linings Playbook should satisfy those who do like a good bit of feel good romantic fluff and go in expecting just that.

Verdict: 3/5

Silver Linings Playbook (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Silver Linings Playbook? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!