“Argo” is based on a true story…an unbelievable true story. Ben Affleck not only stars, but directs this powerful and thrilling drama. It’s already won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and BAFTA for Best Picture, along with the SAG for Best Ensemble. It’s a frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.
The film begins with the take-over of the American Embassy in Iran in 1979. Before they can be taken hostage (along with 52 others) six Americans escape out a back door and end up at the home of the Canadian Ambassador, where they go into hiding.
Two months later, as the “Iran Hostage Crisis” continues, the CIA realizes they need to get the six out, because chances are they will soon be discovered, captured and executed. Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, who is brought in to try to come-up with a plan to get the group out safely. His idea is to have himself and the six others pose as a film crew in Iran scouting out locations for a phony science fiction movie called “Argo”. He’ll fly in and they’ll all fly out together.
Of course this working is a long-shot at best. Mendez will need help from both Washington DC and Hollywood to try to pull off this risky mission. He reaches-out to Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (played by John Goodman) who brings Veteran movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) in on the plan and together they set-out to make a fake movie project believable enough to fool the Iranians into allowing Mendez to come to Tehran and leave with the six embassy workers.
In a word “Argo” is intense. There are some major obstacles that Mendez and the others face while trying to accomplish this great escape, and the staging and pacing of each and every scene is perfect. There are genuine, heart-pounding, “Oh my God” moments and Affleck, as director, does a great job of pulling you into the suspense without getting too heavy with the emotion. Interestingly, his character doesn’t appear until about 20 minutes into the film, following an impressive opening sequence that sets the stage for what’s to come. Between the nice re-creation of the events and actual news footage Affleck places you right in the middle of this crisis situation. He was snubbed by the Academy for a Best Director nomination – one of the biggest surprises in Oscar history.
As for Affleck the actor, his performance is equally strong. He portrays Mendez not as some action hero, but as a real guy who has a tough job to do and believes he can do it. Even more effective is the tremendous supporting cast. Bryan Cranston plays Mendez’ boss at the CIA. It’s his best role of the six movies he’s been in this year. But the stand-out performances come from Arkin and Goodman. They’re the best screen duo of the year. The two make plenty of funny wisecracks about the movie business, (including a new catch-phrase using the title of their fake film, “Argo”) and lend just the right Hollywood touch that makes this more than just a political thriller. Look for both actors to receive Supporting Actor Oscar buzz.
“Argo” is rated R for violence, adult language and mature images. Affleck doesn’t shy away from graphically showing what a dangerous time this was for everyone involved. It’s appropriate for teens and up.
This is one of the rare “based on a true story” thrillers in which you know how things turned-out in real life, but you’re still holding your breath as you’re watching it play-out on screen. And forget about those who will criticize Affleck for “dramatizing” the way things really happened. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a Hollywood film that works on every level.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Argo” gets an A. It’s the Best film of 2012.