In 1979, during the Iranian revolution, militant students storm the American Embassy and hold 52 Americans hostage. Six Americans, though, manage to escape and seek refuge at the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Those Americans include Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), Mark and Cora Lijek (Christopher Denham and Clea DuVall), and Joe and Kathy Stafford (Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe). Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA exfiltration expert, hatches a plan to get them out of Iran safely. How does he do that? By deceiving the Iranian government into believing that the he and the six Americans are in Iran because they're location scouts for a sci-fi movie called, "Argo." Cue the creation of a fake production company with the help of producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman).
Director Ben Affleck deftly juggles the thrilling, dramatic and comedic elements without veering into unevenness or pretention thanks to the well-written screenplay by Chris Terrio. Affleck builds palpable tension not from a pulsating musical score or shaky camerawork, but rather from the narrative itself. Not a single scene goes on for too long or feels awkward, and the film moves along at a smooth, brisk pace. The six Americans' lives are clearly at stake and even though none of them has a back story, you still care enough about them to want them to survive their ordeal. You'll find yourself rooting for them at the edge of your seat from the moment that Tony arrives in Iran to help them escape. The fact that Argo is actually based on a true story makes it all the more fascinating and intriguing.
Casting director Lora Kennedy should be commended for attaching such a fine cast filled with underrated, talented actors. Even the actors who play the hostages manage to be convincing. Ben Affleck gives a low key, well-nuanced performance. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are perfectly cast because they deliver their hysterically funny one-liners with great comedic timing and panache. None of those one-liners will be spoiled here, though, but be prepared to laugh out loud without checking your brain at the door.
Taut, intelligent, funny, timely and thoroughly entertaining, Argo is more than what you'd expect from a political thriller nowadays. Finally, there comes along a Hollywood movie made for adults.
The Prosecution of an American President
Simon and the Oaks
Adapted from the novel by Marianne Fredriksson, Simon and the Oaks follow two young boys, Simon (Jonatan S. Wächter and Isak (Karl Martin Eriksson), who befriend each other at grammar school in Sweden. Simon comes from a working-class family. His father, Erik (Stefan Gödicke), works as a boat maker. Isak comes from an affluent, German-Jewish family, and his father, Ruben (Jan Josef Liefers), works as a book store owner. Simon's family shelters Isak in their home, and soon the two families bond while World War II takes place. In their teenage years, Simon (now played by Bill Skarsgård) and Isak (Karl Linnertorp) still remain friends, but matters become complicated when Simon learns a shocking truth about his family's history when he decides to explore it further.
What could have been a sweeping, engrossing and powerful drama instead quickly turns into a pedestrian, somewhat banal one that feels like a mediocre TV movie at best. While the actors give very fine, heartfelt performances, the weak screenplay by Marnie Blok simply fails to serve them quite well. In turn, none of the characters truly come to life, so when you're expected to shed a tear or two, you might find yourself dry-eyed. There are some interesting uses of symbolism, particularly the titular oak trees, but director Lisa Ohlin doesn't quite flesh these symbolisms out enough, so they come across as tacked on. Moreover, the editing feels clunky at times with abrupt transitions between scenes that takes away from the narrative's dramatic momentum.
Simon and the Oaks at least has a multi-layered story that will keep you mildly engaged, and it also offers you a few surprises along the way as Simon discovers more hidden truths about his family later in the second act. If only it were have defter directing and a more organic screenplay, perhaps it wouldn't leave you underwhelmed.