Set in the scary, chaotic aftermath of the Iranian revolution and the storming of the American embassy in Tehran, Argo sees six embassy workers take a gap and escape into the madness of the streets. Terrified and under very real threat of death, they seek sanctuary in the Canadian embassy like so many Anne Franks, as the Revolutionary Guard go house to house killing spies and counter-revolutionaries and anyone connected with the Shah. They are perilously exposed, and the CIA urgently needs a plan to get them out. But what? With the usual cover stories unavailable, they conjure up a fake identity for the team that so implausible, so ridiculous, it just might work. They’ll create a fake film crew for a fake film company making a fake sci-fi film – complete with ads in Variety – and they’ll smuggle the Americans out under the guise of a poorly-timed location scouting trip….
The result is really a fantastic, edge-of-the-seat thriller. Another appalling Ameri-centric re-writing of actual history of course (sorry Brits and Kiwis, and also you Canucks, the Yanks are the only game in town in this re-telling) but, what the hell – it’s really a fantastic cinematic experience from start to finish. Argo filmed in California, actually – even the tense scenes in the embassy compound as its invaded by the mob were filmed at the Veteran’s Administration north of Los Angeles. External scenes were shot in Istanbul. Emanuel Levy has good stuff as usual.
But here’s a strange thing; for a movie that relies on a location scout for its basic plot point, it’s kind of unforgivable that the film’s own location professionals are ignored in the closing credits. I think that’s even more uncool than slagging off the Brits….
The first Taken movie was a brisk and entertaining affair, where the good guys were clearly in peril and the bad guys were shadowy and scary and ruthless. I liked the fact that there were no dumb-ass Arnie wisecracks, I loved the fact that there was no snappy black dude side-kick for occasional levity and token diversity. And in some ways, Taken 2 commits to somewhat the same formula. Which is strange then, that it falls so completely flat. There’s no real tension at all; you know that Liam’s going to donder the kak out of the lesser-bodied Albanians, Fanke Janssen will worry a lot, and Maggie Grace will get what she wants at the end. I won’t even go into the holes in the plot, which are large enough for learner driver Kim to handbrake turn through. (You try speeding up to a US embassy checkpoint in an unmarked car….) The problem is, this time round, you just don’t care.
Taken 2 filmed in Istanbul, and I thought it looked quite good on film. The Turkish media – and my Turkish friends – were less than delighted though with the outdated representation of their city: The taxis and police cars in the movie are antiques from the 1970s, and all the women who appear on screen during the Istanbul scenes are covered and veiled. “It’s makes us look like Damascus,” spat one chum. I suppose that’s why you need a film commission, to manage this kind of reputational stuff. At least a little better….
I think it might be something to do with it being Year End, but I’m struggling to find much to say about the new Bond movie Skyfall. Of course, I’ll not have a word spoken against Daniel Craig (who seems to have shrunk) – plus Naomie Harris as the capable new Moneypenny is just delightful. It does open quite brilliantly – the high-octane scenes in Istanbul are some of the best adrenalin-pumped, Craig-era Bond yet….
But after that it all becomes a bit silly. There are no grand ideas, there’s no dastardly genius out to destroy the world, there aren’t even gadgets. Aside from Istanbul, even the locations look more like studio sets than real places. I felt I’d seen everything before – even Javier Bardem just looked like Anton Chigurh with dyed hair. (And let’s not get into the decision to play gay-as-camp.) Given the amount of time the film takes to set up the new characters that’ll populate the franchise in future, it felt a bit like the second part of a trilogy – interesting enough but no resolution. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it or anything. I was just a bit disappointed.