Synopsis: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Chandler, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Scoot McNairy, Chris Messina, Michael Parks, Taylor Schilling
Director: Ben Affleck
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Over the course of his career, Affleck seems to have been haunted by the Oscar that he shared with Matt Damon for writing Good Will Hunting. Through the years I’ve scoffed a bit when a movie he is acting in touts him as Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck…wanting to shout back at the screen… “It was for WRITING!” With the release of the third film that he’s directed, it’s finally time for me to lay off the guy and give credit where credit is due. While it’s not as strong a film as his last outing (The Town), Argo is still a darn good film that should keep you on the edge of your seat even if you already know how things will turn out.
In his first foray into fact-based filmmaking, Affleck scores big points for his attention to period details and also for easing the audience into the time and place of the events via a clever opening montage. Giving you just enough information to understand why things are happening how they are happening, Argo then asks you to keep up as it packs a lot of movement into its taut two-hour running time.
It’s 1979 and the Iran Hostage Crisis is underway. The focus of the film is not on the US Foreign Service workers who were captured in the US Embassy but in the six workers that escaped and are hiding out in the Canadian Embassy. Sort of like a new take on The Diary of Anne Frank, these individuals are waiting for the government to provide them a way out without being captured and most likely publically executed. Basically, the stakes couldn’t be higher for all involved.
Back on US soil, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) has been called in to help craft a way of escape. Several of the ideas already being bandied about are laughable to say the least and at this point they are looking for the ‘best bad idea” they can muster. It’s watching a Planet of the Apes sequel that gives Mendez the idea to touch base with his Hollywood contact, Oscar winning make-up artist John Chambers (Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel (Arkin) to set into motion a doozy of a plot to get these six people out. How they do it is a wonder to behold…most importantly because it’s a true story.
There are a lot of plot points and characters to juggle and Affleck works with screenwriter Chris Terrio to make it all blend together in a seamless fashion. You do, however, have to pay attention or you may find yourself stumbling a bit to keep pace with this rocket fueled picture. At its core, the kernel of an idea is fairly routine but like all fine films made from a stock storyline, it’s in the execution that makes this particular film a winner.
Continuing my praise for Affleck, he wisely casts himself in the leading role which has spelled trouble for some actor/directors in the past (coughcoughKevinCostnercoughcough). Here, Affleck is a winning choice as a trustworthy man that holds half a dozen lives in his hands. I’m not sure how historically accurate the last twenty minutes or so are, but there’s no denying that Affleck has created a real nail-biter of a third act.
Packing his supporting roles with strong character actors, Affleck finally casts Cranston in the right role after so many recently failed attempts (Rock of Ages, Total Recall) – I still don’t think Cranston is a movie star in any sense of the word but it goes to show you that with the right role he can pass just fine. Affleck had the same luck with Jon Hamm in The Town – again, as charming and winning as Hamm is on TV and award shows, he’s not a solid big-screen actor. Nice turns from DuVall and McNairy as the most interesting of the six would-be-escapees lend nice color to the group. Goodman is as solid as ever and Arkin should get some sort of award recognition…if only for a monologue he delivers to sleaze ball agent Kind in one of the most enjoyable film denouements of 2012
Overall, Argo is absolutely one of the strongest films of 2012 and should help land Affleck his first nomination for Best Director. It will surely end up on the list of Best Picture nominees as well so that’s even more incentive for Oscar completists to buy a ticket for this one and pronto. Luckily for you, the film is thoroughly enjoyable as a well-shaped and delivered account of a dark period of time in our foreign service history and the men, women, and countries that worked together to bring it all to light.