There’s a certain sweet spot as far as Hollywood’s historical films are concerned: that elusive topic that is simultaneously thrilling and relatively unknown. The unknown factor breeds curious hype, the thrills big box office returns. Argo, the most recent offer from actor-turned-startlingly-competent-director Ben Affleck, hits this spot perfectly by detailing a lesser-known chapter of the Iran hostage crisis.
Based on the true story of a CIA extraction operation popularly known as the “Canadian Caper,” Argo follows the efforts of CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) in his attempt to rescue a group of American diplomats who successfully escaped the U.S consulate in Iran immediately before it was overrun by a mob of nationalist Iranian students. The students imprisoned the consulate staff in a Khomeini-sanctioned hostage situation that went on to last for over a year. Cooperating with the Canadian government and its ambassador to Iran (at whose house the six escaped staff members were hiding), the CIA devised an elaborate plan to send in an agent posing as a producer scouting locations for a Star Wars-themed science fiction knockoff with “a Middle Eastern vibe,” titled Argo.
It’s an ambitious step for Affleck as a director, who has thus far been entirely constrained to directing films in what might be called the “Boston crime” subgenre. And yet one can tell from the opening shots – a frenzied crowd pounding on the embassy gates, riot police readying their weapons, staff frantically burning sensitive documents – that this is a director who knows his thrillers, whether or not they’re set in a New England city or the capital of a totalitarian regime. Indeed, Argo goes beyond the merely thrilling; more than any film in recent memory, it is a terrifying testament to the power of the crowd, against whose rage the lone protagonist and those he must rescue are nearly helpless.
Still, Affleck’s step beyond his familiar Boston suburbs comes at a price. What both Gone Baby Gone and The Town shared, apart from first-rate twists and action sequences, was a rich host of well-developed Boston characters – criminals, policemen, bystanders – the sort of intriguing and morally ambiguous characters you could tell Affleck lived and breathed. Argo lacks these characters, and not even its meta jokes about the film industry and well-meaning happy ending can keep it from suffering as a result.
And yet, for a film without a single gunshot or explosion, Argo is such a perfectly crafted exercise in suspense that you probably won’t even care.
The film is currently playing at Providence Place at 1:00 p.m., 3:55 p.m., 7:10 p.m., and 10:55 p.m. While Argo is a great rainy day or Family Weekend option, here are some other movies that are showing on or within a reasonable distance of College Hill.
At the Avon: Mediocre Adult Fare Category
Robot & Frank (trailer above): Avon @ 2:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Do your parents want to see something at a convenient time and place? Look no further. This is the only movie on this list that I’ve seen, though to be fair, I’ve recently been quite busy mentally psyching myself up to write essays that end up being completed in the half-hour before they’re due. Robot & Frank has the dubious distinction of being one of those movies that has an Oscar-caliber performance but isn’t entirely worth watching anyway. That performance is delivered by Frank Langella as Frank (do we think they named the character after him? Or maybe he was named after the character? Anything’s possible), a retired cat burglar who gets back into the game with the help of his robot-servant. It’s more plausible when you watch it, I swear. But still, not that good. Sorry, Avon. Should’ve stuck with The Master.
Arbitrage: Avon @ 4:10 p.m. and 8:25 p.m.
Are your parents big on Richard Gere? Well, here’s one for all the Richard Gere fans out there! What, they all went extinct 15 years ago? Nonsense. Arbitrage basically seems to be about a rich dude who kind of happens to either be running a Ponzi scheme or just suck at his job, and also killed some floozy he was sleeping with. I think. The movie has actually generated a decent amount of hype, especially for Gere, but the fact that it was released on iTunes before it was in theaters doesn’t exactly scream “Best Picture.”
At the Cable Car: Documentaries on documentaries
Do your parents like to pretend to be intellectual? The Cable Car, Providence’s other boutique theater, is busting out a documentary twin bill for all you folks who like
boring informative and thought-provoking trips to the movies. The first is about Chinese babies adopted by American families and the second is about an obscure Mo-town singer who became popular in South Africa but vanished off the face of the Earth. These are great options if documentaries are your thing (or, more likely, your parents’ thing).
At Providence Place: Worth-seeing Category
Do your parents like to have fun? In addition to Argo, these two movies showing at Providence Place have been confirmed by both critics and audiences to be as cool as they look. You certainly can’t go wrong with Seven Psychopaths, a quirky comedy-action-comedy sandwich with Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and ___(insert your favorite B-list movie star here)___. Looper, meanwhile, is a time-travel action movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Young Bruce Willis and Bruce Willis playing Old Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I don’t know what world the casting person lived in when they decided that was a reasonable match, but apparently it works. Personally, I prefer to generally stay far away from time travel and its accompanying mindfuckery, but Looper does come highly recommended by many of my anonymous sources.
At Providence Place: Chick Flick Category
Is your either your mom or day a 15-year-old girl? Then perhaps he or she might enjoy one of these tasty selections, be it the acapella battle film Pitch Perfect (just when you thought the twelve million acapella concerts this weekend weren’t enough) or the teenager coming-of-age-and-also-probably-falling-in-love schmaltzfest The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring Brown’s own Emma Watson.
This lengthy rundown is all worth it for the satisfaction we know you two or three kind souls who made it all the way through this post are deriving from it. Here’s hoping you and your parents find a good movie.