Affleck easily slides from one tense sequence to another, sprinkling in dashes of humor here and there. One of the best mainstream offerings of the year.
Ben Affleck’s Argo is a helluva thriller. One of the best Hollywood has released this year. I’ve personally disliked his other directing efforts, not because they were bad, I actually think they are very well made. Gone Baby Gone had me until it’s ridiculous ending and The Town is an engrossing crime melodrama that felt like a blue collar ode to Michael Mann’s much better film Heat. But here Affleck nails it. Everything about Argo is top notch. Roger Ebert has been saying that this is the film to beat for the Best Picture Oscar. While I’m not going to go all in on that bet it’s a safe bet that Argo will nab probably around 6-7 nominations come February.
Ben Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent whose job is to go into risky situations and rescue people. Mendez comes off as a company man. He gives his all to his job, so much so that his wife has left him with their young son. When we meet Mendez he is passed out on his bed after a night of boozing. His phone rings and he is called in to work on an emergency.
His boss played by Bryan Cranston updates him on the situation. The American embassy in Iran has been penetrated by an angry mob and hostages have been taken. But a handful of Americans have escaped and are hiding out at the home of the Canadian representative. The film opens with the embassy siege and Affleck gets his film off to a grueling start. The angry mob chants outside violently, loudly. Everyone inside can feel it coming and you can almost see their hearts beating out of their chests.
So now we have a problem. A few Americans are stuck in a house in the middle of a city with millions of people who would kill them if they were to be found. While a bunch of paper was shredded before everyone evacuated the embassy, the Revolutionary Guard (think the Iranian KGB, kinda) start forcing kids in sweat shops to put together the shredded paper to see information.
Now the Americans have to get out before their pictures are put back together and the RG find out that there are other people missing. You might be wondering why Iranians are mad enough to storm the American embassy. Let me explain. Iran was run by a guy who was not well liked around the globe (especially the U.S.), so they (the U.S.) took him out of power and installed a new leader. He was not well liked in Iran and they basically got rid of him. The ousted leader fled to the U.S. where he was granted asylum. The people of Iran demanded that he be returned so he could stand trial and ultimately be hanged. When their cries went unheard, they protested and eventually stormed the embassy.
The CIA has some emergency meetings on how to get the Americans out. Some of them are straight up laughable. One of them involves the hiding Americans to ride bikes over 300 miles to the Iraqi border. This idea is banking on the idea that they don’t get any flat tires or you know, like dying from exhaustion. Now let’s be honest. Mendez’s idea isn’t exactly great either. Wait, what’s his idea? Well I’m glad you asked. His idea is to make a fake science fiction film that has some exotic location shoots that would require an Iranian backdrop. Each of the hideaways would have a different job whether it’d be the director, screenwriter or camera man. Mendez flies in to Tehran gives them fake identities they are to learn in a day. There is a fantastic sequence where they are touring a crowded market for a location shoot.
Unfortunately, you just can’t fly into Iran with this idea and expect them to buy it. Mendez realizes that he needs some actual Hollywood filmmakers to bankroll this idea and promote this. So he flies off to Los Angeles to talk to filmmakers who would be interested. He happens to know a guy who does make up/fx work for films. He is played by John Goodman and let’s be honest here. This is John fucking Goodman we’re talking about. He is welcome in any movie as far as I’m concerned. He’s great here.
Goodman is essentially a link for Mendez to a producer needed to pass the word around town of this fake movie. That producer is played by Alan Arkin. Arkin is great in the film but seriously, he could do this film in his sleep. Regardless, he and Goodman have some terrific scenes that really let the audience breathe during the really tense sequences in the film. It was only a few years prior that Star Wars set the world aflame and with its success they think a new space epic would be a good film to sell to the Iranian government. After looking for hours they stumble upon the script. That film is Argo.
Argo succeeds for many reasons. First of all, it’s very well made. Affleck nails down the era whether it’d be the clothes, hairstyles and general feeling of the period. Even the old school Warner Brothers logo that the studio rocked in the 1970’s is used and to me that alone put me into the mood the film was trying to get across. Secondly, it’s very well-acted. Other than the aforementioned actors, Affleck casts veteran actors in other supporting roles and all of them are more than up to the challenge. Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane and Christopher Denham are all terrific as four of the Americans hiding out for their lives. And last but not least, it’s just flat out terrific fun. Argo is a two hour film that flies by. While its main intention is to entertain it also sets out to inform. I went to the film with my mom who obviously knew about the Iranian hostage crisis that last 444 days, but had no idea about this little subplot that was taking place at the same time.
The final 45 minutes of Argo is intense. Affleck easily slides from one tense sequence to another, sprinkling in dashes of humor here and there. This is pure Hollywood entertainment we’re talking about. At moments you’ll want to stand up and cheer. After the film finished my mom looked at me and had to catch her breath while telling me she was glad she didn’t have a heart condition. Affleck seems like one of the genuine good guys in Hollywood. Here he has made his best film so far. It also happens to be one of the best mainstream offerings of the year.