Saturday, October 27, 2012


Directed by Ben Affleck, written by Chris Tessio, starring Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Rory Cochrane, and Scoot McNairy - Rated R

"This is the best bad idea we have."
Ben Affleck has already proven himself with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, yet people are still focusing on this idea that it is surprising that Affleck could make yet another solid, arguably great film.  After The Town, the question was, “Can he leave Boston and still do it?”  And the answer to that ridiculous question is a resounding, “Yes.” 
Argo, much like Affleck’s previous work, is a film for adults.  Those who regularly read my crap know that I am a sucker for serious movies that respect the audience’s intelligence.  Argo is not only one of those serious movies, but it is also entertaining, interesting, tense period piece. 

The Middle East is the setting for many tense situations, and the Iran hostage crisis is certainly one of the tensest situations in our country’s history.  The main story has been covered extensively, but what makes Argo unique is that this aspect of the crisis was classified until a few years ago.  (I was a bit embarrassed that I had not heard of the event until I heard about the movie.  I love history, but the hostage crisis is something I haven’t read much about.)  So this film isn’t exactly broad in scope, which allows it to be a very tight, succinct story. 

The specific story of Argo concerns a group of six embassy workers who managed to escape to the Canadian embassy.  The CIA is tasked with getting them home, quietly.  Enter Agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) with an idea just ridiculous enough to work: pose as a Canadian filmmaker on a location scout and leave with the six Americans.  Maybe that doesn’t sound too crazy, but for something like that to work, everything needs to check out, so the fake film has to appear as real as possible.  This, of course, leads to be a bit of comedy.

The scenes featuring Tony in Hollywood definitely lighten the film up.  As he works with a make up artist (John Goodman) and a producer past his prime (Alan Arkin), Tony gets to experience the hilarity that is Hollywood.  These moments are great, but they don’t turn the film into a flat out comedy.  There are still lives at stake, and Argo never lets you forget that.

The overall film is extremely serious and the only thing that matters is the mission.  Affleck could have beefed up some Mendez subplots to get more emotional scenes, but he didn’t.  We get glimpses of his personal life and some issues that are going on with him, but these are nearly unspoken moments that leave it to the audience to figure out.  The same goes for any modern day message about the Middle East.  You can apply importance to this story and compare it to tension that exists to this day in that region, or you can simply enjoy Argo for the straightforward intense film that it is. 

It is very easy to simply enjoy Argo because the film looks great.  I don’t mean that in a high-def kind of way; I mean that in a 70s way.  This film looks old, from the grainy picture to the hairstyles.  The filmmakers created a very immersive world, and once a setting is properly established, it’s easy for the rest to fall into place. 

The actors seamlessly inhabit their roles.  Arkin and Goodman get the easy part, playing their Hollywood personas for laughs, while every single other actor must play it deadly serious while rocking period clothes and hairstyles.  That’s a tough assignment since the 70s have been lampooned so often lately.  At first glance, most of the characters do look a bit goofy, but like any good period piece, you can get past that very quickly and start seeing them as humans rather than characters. 

Argo is a well-made film for an adult audience that tells a story most people are unaware of.  It does get the Hollywood treatment a bit (I imagine some of the last-second close calls were amped up to create excitement) but it has an authentic feel to it that allows the viewer get involved with the story.  It’s short on character development, and that is actually a positive element as this is not a story about getting to know everyone.  It is about saving lives.  Affleck doesn’t prove that he can direct with Argo; he’s already done that.  Don’t think of Argo as confirmation of a talented director.  Think of it as simply another great film that doesn’t talk down to you made by an accomplished director.

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