This week on Trailer Talk: Hollywood espionage, human collateral and cinema-screen perforations.

 

ARGO

I have always been a Ben Affleck fan, although for a long time during the late ’90s and early ’00s the term “apologist” was a better fit, but then something crazy happened; he started earning respect.

It started as a performer in the underrated, overlooked Hollywoodland and was cemented with his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, a tight and engrossing crime drama riddled with moral ambiguity and some career-best performances. He followed that immense critical acclaim with The Town, an equally tight and engrossing crime thriller, it lacked some of the ambiguity that made his debut such a lingering experience but it still packed a punch and had some great performances.

Now, we have Argo. It’s not a crime movie, it’s basically a spy drama based on the downright gonzo true story of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. When Iranian militants seized the US Embassy, six American citizens evaded capture and went into hiding, a joint operation by the US and Canadian governments banded together to extract the Americans before they were discovered.

The plan was simple, yet ludicrous, concoct a fake American film production and claim the six Americans were actually in the area scouting for locations. The Iranian government desperately needed foreign business and a high-profile Hollywood production was just the kind of influx of cash they needed, this would give the CIA team (lead by Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck) room to get in and out of the country.

The depth of the lie was remarkable: Mendez teamed up with John Chambers (played by John Goodman, the likeness is uncanny), the make-up artist for The Planet of The Apes and the Star Trek TV series, and the pair set up a real production company. They used a genuine, but abandoned movie project called The Lord of Light (renamed Argo) and brought in Avengers co-creator Jack Kirby (Michael Parks) to design the film.

Whether they get the hostages out or not is not for me to say but the story has that unlikely mix of the absurd and the intense, something this trailer communicates nicely, and with a cast like that and Affleck’s track record as a director, this is one to watch.

KILLER JOE

Way back when, I was sent the script for Killer Joe. I don’t normally read scripts until after I have seen the film, not because of spoilers (reading a book before it’s adapted doesn’t ruin a good adaptation of it), but because expectations can change dramatically. A good script can come alive in your mind but what if the execution does not live up to the imaginary movie in your head? That’s an unfair position to place any film, so I usually avoid it altogether.

I told myself to only read the first ten pages, get a feel for the voice of the piece and what to expect, on the off-chance production on the film went forward. I started reading, before I knew it I had got most of the way through the script with only five pages to go. As the ultimate tease, I left it at that, but the fact I unconsciously could not stop myself reading after ten pages was proof that this was an engaging, thrilling piece of work. The blackest shade of black; uncompromisingly mean, very funny, and dialogue that seemed to dance across the page.

When I heard it was becoming a film and that William Friedkin would be directing Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Thomas Hayden Church, I knew this was a perfect combination of talent and material. McConaughey’s subdued, yet quietly intense screen persona was a perfect fit for the viper in the nest that was “Killer” Joe. The trailer seems to indicate that he nailed it. Consider this another of my most anticipated releases of the year.

GANGSTER SQUAD

Now for something more mainstream. Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer is tackling the true story of an LAPD hit squad that targeted key members of the Los Angeles mob. The film has a great cast and the trailer has a slick, punchy feel to it which is hopefully a representation of the finished project. The use of Jay Z adds to that energised, hard-charging feel and gives it a bit of contemporary relevance but I don’t think we will be hearing that in the finished product; it works here as a short hand but it won’t play in a feature.

Another contemporary quality I noticed in the film, and one that’s far less easy to get around, is the digital look of everything. It’s fine, certainly slick and modern, but it feels wrong to view a period film (especially one riffing on a genre as classically rooted as the pulp gangster movie) without the grain provided when shot on film. There is no getting around it at this point, so I will just have to get over it.

Penn looks like he will be tearing off large chunks of the exceptional period-appropriate production design with his teeth and swallowing it dry, he is one of those actors who can so completely disappear into a role that even the weird prosthetics seem to disappear on his face once the trailer gets moving. I’m not entirely sure what Gosling is doing in this trailer, his line delivery sounds like an alien infiltrator trying to approximate a human conversation, but maybe it works better in the proper context.

A lot of modern gangster movies strive to be The Godfather or Bonnie and Clyde, but it seems Fleischer is more interested in following in the footsteps of The Untouchables. This is very much acceptable and Sean Penn seems to completely get that tone, channeling that same heightened presence that made DeNiro’s turn as Al Capone so much fun to watch.

Meanwhile, in the Anti-Matter Universe, Anti-Matter Andy is writing an Anti-Matter Trailer Talk about Darren Aronofsky’s Gangster Squad. It probably looks great but would it look as fun as this?