‘Argo’ is the fact-based story one of the most improbable rescue operations in recent history. Ben Affleck directs and stars in ‘Argo’, and though he has had an inconsistent career as an actor, he has hit three home-runs with three at-bats as director (his two previous films being ‘The Town’, and ‘Gone Baby Gone’). This movie will have you in its lock from its opening scene to the post credits.
It is 1979 and the Iranian Revolution has forced the Shah of Iran to flee for safety to the United States. In response to this, Iranian students and other revolutionaries raid and take over the American Embassy in Tehran, and hold 52 Americans hostage. However, six manage to avoid capture and have taken refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Of all the bad rescue plans proposed by the CIA, the “best bad idea” is from Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). His plan: pose as a Canadian filmmaker shooting a science fiction film in Tehran where the six escapees will pose as various members of the production crew. Tony then recruits the help of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to help make the phoney film as their cover. It is then up to Tony to fly to Tehran, set things in motion, and hopefully fly out with the six American escapees before anyone finds out about this elaborate rescue mission.
But, who the heck would believe that a cheesy science fiction picture is being filmed in Iran during the hostage situation?
The cast is uniformly excellent. As an actor, Ben Affleck hasn’t been better. There is enough of a back-story present to understand where his character comes from and what his motivations are. On a side note, I think he rocks a pretty good Dave Grohl look here. John Goodman and Alan Arkin’s characters provide the film’s moments of comic relief – both are very reliable performers. The supporting cast consists mostly of lesser known actors (regular moviegoers will recognise some of these cast members from other pictures).
‘Argo’ works as both a white knuckle thriller and as a ‘Wag The Dog’-esque satire, and the balance between these two very different elements is perfect. This is a complicated film in this sense – combining elements that may seem tough to blend together. It’s an international drama, and a thrilling action picture, but also a very funny Hollywood comedy. Think about this for a second – this film is about the Iranian hostage situation, but it’s funny! In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, ‘Argo’ would suffer from multi-personality disorder; but, Affleck moves fluidly between these storylines, making transitions that would seem tough on paper appear seamless.
More about the technique: The film opens with the reappearance of the old red and white Warner Brothers Studio logo (from the 1970s & 1980s). The opening scene plays out like a documentary about the 1970s Iranian Revolution. The grainy photography allows the stock footage to blend effortlessly with the actual film. Even the montage during the end credits (which I won’t give away) is a testament to the amount of research dedicated to this project. The attention to detail in this picture is truly remarkable.
Though steeped in the filmmaking style and trends of the 1970s, ‘Argo’ is also a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This picture premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival – the same week Canada severed its diplomatic ties with Iran, citing safety concerns and maintaining their long-standing view that Iran is a threat to global peace.
Affleck, as director, has found his calling. Each film has him increasing in scope, and ‘Argo’ is his most accomplished work by far. Like Clint Eastwood before him, Affleck will become at least as well known and respected for what he does behind the camera as anything he does on screen. ‘Argo’ is a film of exceptional craft – assembling a thriller that relies on precision and timing rather than shootouts and explosions. Though it is a little early to tell, my guess is that this picture will be a serious contender come Oscar season. My personal favorite of the year so far, ‘Argo’ is a reminder that sometimes Hollywood can make ‘em like they used to! Oh, and Canadians are the most awesome people ever!
- Jerry Nadarajah