Argo, the latest gem to come from Ben Affleck’s directing abilities, may be one of the top-10 best movies I’ve ever seen.
Few movies have been able to carry so much tension with every scene. Every suspenseful moment seemed so real: It’s hard to tell whether it was due to the great acting or just the fact that this true story is so effing crazy.
Argo is based on the declassified CIA mission that took place in 1979 and 1980 during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which came close to igniting the Cold War multiple times and was the main cause for the United States’ boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The film brings you right into the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, when a mob of Iranian citizens held 52 Americans hostage for over a year.
Six diplomats evade capture and hide out at the house of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran until a way to rescue them can be devised. A number of ideas are thrown around in the CIA’s office, including saying that the six are social workers, or Canadian teachers, or nurses. CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, gets the idea of disguising the diplomats as members of a film crew searching for locations for a science fiction movie “Argo.” Bryan Cranston’s character, CIA middleman Jack O’Donnell, explains the plan to his boss as, “the best bad idea we’ve got.”
The movie provides little backstory, so it’s assumed the viewer has some knowledge about the incident. One cinematic technique that is instantly noticeable is how the movie splices in actual footage from the hostile takeover of the Embassy, which occurs throughout the movie. It is an incredible addition and adds a level of reality that is hard to duplicate with acting.
In fact, during the credits at the end of the movie, a number of stills from the actual crisis were shown with their Hollywood-produced counterparts. The attention to detail that Affleck and co. showed was impeccable.
Speaking of Affleck, he assembled a cast — himself included — that might be the best of the year so far, with reserved respect to Steven Spielberg’s upcoming biopic “Lincoln” and Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western “Django Unchained.” But the foursome of Affleck, Alan Arkin, Cranston and John Goodman is about as good as it comes and all of them had their moments.
Goodman portrayed legendary special effects artist John Chambers, who joins Mendez in this covert mission, helping in all the behind-the-scenes logistics that need to be acknowledged for a fake movie to be believable. Goodman recruits movie producer Lester Siegel, portrayed by Arkin, to help make a movie that’s never going to be made. Siegel agrees, under one condition: “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.”
Arkin, much like he did in “Little Miss Sunshine,” stole almost every scene he was in. In one memorable moment midway through the film, Siegel was being grilled by a reporter on the meaning of the movie’s title during a large press event set up for “Argo.” After a number of rambling attempts, a perturbed Siegel answers the journalist: “Argo, f— yourself.” The three-word phrase soon began a mantra for Mendez, Siegel and Chambers throughout the film.
What I’ll take most from the film is the remarkable evolution of Affleck’s Hollywood career. After spending a better part of the ‘90s as a wonder-kid, Affleck lost most of his credibility after spewing garbage like “Daredevil,” “Gigli,” “Paycheck” and “Jersey Girl.”
But after directing the emotionally charged “Gone Baby Gone” and directing and starring in “The Town,” Affleck cemented himself as a very, very good Hollywood filmmaker with a third-straight gem in Argo.
While it may not win an Academy Award for Film of the Year — considering a stacked lineup of films awaiting the Oscar season — it should get a place in the conversation.