And you thought movies were for entertainment only! “Argo” is the third feature film directed by Ben Affleck. It’s also his best work to date. “Argo” takes place during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and is loosely based on CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez’s bizarre but daring rescue attempt of six US diplomats. For the most part Affleck steers clear of politics instead choosing to focus more on the intensity of the events. This results in a well conceived and focused story that sizzles from the opening scene to the end credits.
The film opens up with what’s arguably the best 20 minutes in cinema so far this year. Affleck instantly sets the stakes high by showing the immediate causes of the unrest in Tehran through a brief but effective opening montage. In 1979 Iran was in chaos after the people had overthrown their unpopular Shah and replaced him with an Islamic Republic. Anti-American sentiment boiled over after the United States granted asylum to the deposed leader. Led by Islamic militants, a mass of people break into the US Embassy and begin taking hostages. Six diplomats manage to escape and find refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador. The protesting and subsequent storming of the US Embassy is packed with tension and it’s brilliantly visualized through a mix of old news footage and clever camera work. And I’m not just speaking of the hostile crowd outside of the gates. We see diplomats inside, fully expecting a breach, frantically gathering sensitive documents to incinerate and shred. We see last-minute contacts being made which sends Washington scurrying. All of this is realized as truly riveting, edge-of-your-seat cinema.
As mentioned, six American diplomats manage to escape and hide in the home of Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Knowing the militants will soon realize that six Americans are unaccounted for, the State Department brings in Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) to come up with a plan to get them out. He convinces his superiors to allow him to enter Tehran, meet up with the hidden diplomats, and leave the country with them posing as a Canadian film crew scouting out a location for a sci-fi movie. Knowing how thorough the militants will investigate the ruse if suspicious, Mendez is sent to movie make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a semi-successful Hollywood film producer. Together they put all the pieces in place for their fake movie including a title (“Argo”), a script, a production company, and even a movie poster, all intended to give credibility to Mendez’s cover.
The film then follows the planning of the mission, the anxiety of the diplomats in hiding, and the ever-present uncertainty in Washington from those who don’t fully buy into Mendez’s plan. All of this is told by the able hands of Affleck who has certainly established himself as a skilled storyteller. His style fits perfectly with Chris Terrio’s sharp and layered screenplay. Terrio crafts a potent dramatization by adding just enough to the real events to give the narrative a real dramatic pop. A couple of fictional characters are thrown in and there are moments that are purely for dramatic effect. But that’s what cinema does and I can’t imagine this story playing out any better than it does here. It also has the sharp sting of relevance. I couldn’t help but think of the recent Benghazi embassy attack During the film’s opening sequence.
You also can’t help but be impressed by the movie’s impeccable attention to detail in creating a believable late 70s and early 80s atmosphere and vibe. The movie opens with the old late 70s Warner Bros. logo which perfectly set the table for me. Then there are the obvious things – the cars, the clothes, the hairstyles, the technology. But Affleck also employs several clever devices such as original news footage featuring the likes of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Ted Koppel. We see archived footage of President Jimmy Carter as well as authentic newscasts of the turmoil in Iran at the time. It blends in perfectly with the fictional additions to give a true credence to everything we see on-screen.
“Argo” is a rock-solid movie that does all of these things well, and I haven’t even gone into the fantastic performances. Some have said otherwise, but I found Affleck to be a compelling lead. Then you have the incredible supporting work of Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, and Michael Parks. And of course Goodman and Arkin are a blast. The performances are just another strength and this gripping and well-made film. It grabs you and holds you right through to its nail-biting finale. And be sure to stay through the credits for some great images of the real people involved in this amazing rescue attempt. It’s just icing on the cake of one of the better films of 2012.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Can’t wait to check this out. Like you pointed out the supporting actors all appear to be amazing here. Good job, man.
Thanks bro. I think you’ll be very impressed. It’s just fantastic storytelling through and through.
Good review Keith. Didn’t love it, but definitely was interested from start to finish. Sadly, I knew how it was all going to end and it just took me out of the movie a bit more.
Thanks man. It’s interesting, I also knew how it ended but yet I was impressed with how the story kept me on the edge my seat despite that. On the flipside I have heard others who share your opinion. They talk about expecting more from the movie than they actually got. But personally I really enjoyed it.
Yay, I think we agree on the rating. That opening sequence was edge-of-your-seat stuff, and after what happened at Benghazi recently it just made it even more tense. Glad I didn’t read about the real life story until after but even if I did I think I’d still appreciate this film. Affleck hasn’t made a bad film yet.
Ruth by made a bad film I assume you mean behind the camera 😉
Ahah yes absolutely, he’s a much, much better director than he is an actor. I should’ve made that clear 😀
You hit on something that I found really impressive. I knew the ending of the story but I was still riveted. That’s what good storytelling does. Affleck has really impressed me with his skills behind the camera.
Loved it… I don’t see why people would pan Affleck’s performance in this role. If he didn’t play it so understated he could have easily overwhelmed the film.
Thanks man. I agree. I think Affleck was really solid on both sides of the camera. I was totally wrapped up in it from start to finish.
Lookin and soundin good bro. You rate this Afflecks’s best so far? If so, then that’s high praise. His earlier movies were somethIng special. Either way, I must see this! Cheers man.
Yes, it’s definitely his best work behind the camera. Now I liked his two previous films but Argo really worked from start to finish. Afleck’s direction is tighter and more fluid and he really establishes himself as a truly fabulous storyteller. I’m sold on him. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.
I really liked this movie, not as much as “The Town” but it’s very close. I have to say, I have been really impressed with Ben Affleck, the director so much more than Ben Afflect, the actor. With this, he created such a great feeling of suspense within the historical context.
You know “The Town” received its share of criticism but I thought it was a really good film. And I agree 100% about Affleck’s directing. He really has established himself behind the camera in a way that he hasn’t as an actor.
This is not out here for a couple of weeks but the buzz about the film is amazing… I have a pre-screening on Monday so am pretty excited!
Fantastic! It’s a solid all around movie that I think you’ll enjoy. And that opening 20 minutes….WHEW!
Great review, Keith. Very excited for this one.
Thanks man. Affleck really impresses here. I think you’ll enjoy it.
He really impresses me too, mostly as a director. I bet I’ll enjoy this one like enjoyed his previous efforts.
Great review. Definitely agree about those first 20 mins and Affleck’s attention to detail. He’s such an exciting director! This was even better than Gone Baby Gone and one of the best of the year!
Thanks man! I agree 100%. Affleck is really making a name for himself.
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Excellent review, I need to see this film. Affleck seems to be having a lot of success on the awards circuit as of late.
I appreciate it man. While it wasn’t my favorite movie of the year, I loved Argo. Even more I love how it’s throwing a kink in the Academy’s plans. I am a bit surprised at how it has taken off here at awards time. But no gripes from me.
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