19) Argo [8.5]

Based on true events, Argo chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis-the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades. On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a risky plan to get them safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies. (2012)

Lester Siegel: The saying goes, “What starts in farce ends in tragedy.”
John Chambers: No, it’s the other way around.
Lester Siegel: Who said that exactly?
John Chambers: Marx.

Argo begins with a voiceover narrating a set of film storyboards. It’s a unique way to set up the story, and is the first of many instances of Ben Affleck knocking it out of the park yet again with a directorial effort. The story that plays out is so strange that it becomes more amazing since it is based on true events. Though from what I understand a number of things were changed for the sake of keeping the narrative flowing (though why did the Canadians need to get less credit than they deserved?), Argo is a moving piece of tension that is underscored by strong humor.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin get the most witty lines when talking about the film industry and creating the fake movie. Somehow, Affleck manages to not let the humor overshadow the seriousness of what’s being displayed. Half way through the movie, the group of hostages receive a phone call where the person who dialed says nothing before hanging up. Something as simple as that is incredibly effective based on what has come before, and that’s a testament to the director Affleck has become. It seems he’s always better when he’s directing himself.

It was a good decision to not hire big name actors for the parts of the hostages, as it helps sell the reality of the situation when you don’t recognize an actor. As the post credits show, these actors were made up to look fairly identical to their real life counterparts. There’s the expected few scenes of them questioning such an outrageous concept for escaping when their lives are at stake, but it all works. They aren’t shouting out of ego or a need to cause conflict– rather, they are just scared for their lives.

The timeline of events in the third act felt as if they were re-arranged or sped up for dramatic purposes, but it is effective. There isn’t one portion of the film in which I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. Was Argo the best picture of 2012? I’m not sure, but I do believe it deserves a tremendous amount of praise. I am excited to see what Affleck does next, as he’s currently three for three in the directorial chair and can potentially go down as one of the American greats when all is said and done.

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3 comments
  1. Who would have thought the guy from Gigli would make such a great director? I agree, Affleck is three for three in my book, as well. I was floored watching Gone Baby Gone in the theater and he has not let me down since. I think he excels at keeping us at the edge of our seat, as you pointed out. Great read.

    Cristina

  2. I liked this a lot, but hated the forced drama of the actual escape–the bus that won’t start, the chase down the runway. It felt like a major tonal shift from a slow dramatic burn something a bit more action-y. It was unnecessary, but mostly ameliorated by the actors’s wonderful reactions as the plane actually leaves the tarmac. I really like Affleck as a director, but his acting still leaves something to be desired. I never forget he’s Affleck when I’m watching him.

  3. jdym00 said:

    I definitely agree that the bus not starting was a silly, silly thing.

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