Ben Afleck, I take back almost all of the bad things I’ve ever said about you. Almost. Gigli still exists and I will never get those 90 minutes of my life back.
In any case, between Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo, Mr. Afleck has proved himself to be one of the most competent filmmakers in Hollywood at the moment. Within three film’s he’s changed his reputation from dismiss-able star of Michael Bay movies to critically acclaimed director, and Argo is a shining example of how that change isn’t going to stop any time soon. Aside from a great cast and Afleck at the helm though, Argo had the benefit featuring a truly interesting story unearthed from declassified documents over 15 years ago. The premise alone seems so implausible that I assumed there was a great deal of liberty taken with the details of the film, but it is very clear by the end of the film that the writers and cinematographers did their homework with aplomb. That accuracy gave me an even greater respect for a film that would have been admirable even if it had been a work of complete fiction. While it occasionally dips into genre cliches in the last half hour, Argo is a well assembled, fantastically acted and extremely suspenseful film that deserves every ounce of the positive reception it has been enjoying.
Like any historically based movie, the general aspects of the plot will be fairly familiar to most viewers. After deposing a savagely oppressive (yet western friendly) leader, the people of Iran blame the United States for the crimes committed by a totalitarian ruler who had come to power through American involvement. This hatred boiled over as a huge mob of Iranian revolutionaries stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American citizens hostage,
demanding the return of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from his refuge in the States to be tried for his crimes against the Iranian people. Unknown to the Iranians, however, six embassy workers had escaped the embassy to be taken in by the Canadian Ambassador. Long story short, the CIA flounders in coming up with a plan on the six’s extraction until ex-filtration expert Tony Mendez get’s an idea to enter Iran posing as a producer of a science fiction film with the six hostages as his film crew.
Some reviews I’ve read of this film criticize it primarily for its general lack of character development. I understand that point and concede that it’s more or less true, but it did not diminish my enjoyment of the movie or my appreciation of the characters any less significant. Afleck seems to be putting more focus on personality as means of development, and I felt like the actors lent more dimension to their characters with their performances than would have been gained by more back story. I actually felt like the lack of overt character development allowed the film to keep up its pace and focus on the mission itself.
More specifically though, I’d like to mention several characters. Of course we have Ben in the lead, and while his performance may not have been monumental it nevertheless provided a strong pillar for a story which essentially revolves around him. Tony is focused without completely lacking a sense of humor, and it all comes together to produce on of the more likable roles Afleck has played in recent years. Even more enjoyable to watch, however, Bryan Cranston as CIA boss Jack O’Donnell, John Goodman as hollywood makeup artist John Chambers and Alan Arkin as aging producer Lester Seigel. Cranston is quite funny in a very blunt sort of way, while Goodman and Arkin have some really great chemistry as Tony’s men on the ground in Tinseltown. They make the “fake movie” aspect of Argo enjoyable without losing the gravity of the fact that six lives rest in their ability to pull off such an elaborate ruse.
This is where the effects of Hollywood become more pronounced for mixed effects. On the one hand, a great amount of work was done with the surviving members of the real life mission and as a result the vast majority of Argo feels incredible real. Of course there were liberties taken with things like dialogue, but those liberties come in the form of a smartly written script of which the trailers sample from pretty heavily. My main issue in hindsight was with the last thirty minutes, which is fairly overloaded with continuous usage of the old “just in the nick of time” cliche. Of course while I was actually watching those last 30 minutes I was too glued to the screen as I rooted for the hostage to make it home in one piece, so I didn’t exactly care that much about the added Hollywood factors.
The Verdict: 8.5/10 Impressive
Argo was the first non-franchise movie I’ve seen in theaters to be met with near unanimous applause from the audience as the credits began to role. Honestly, I had no trouble joining in because this movie pulls no punches in making you root for it as an audience member. What took it from good to great for me though was it’s mindfullness of the actual historical events that surrounded it, acknowledging that rescuing those six hostages was a victory but a small one in comparison to the turmoil they left behind. I also appreciated the fact that we are repeatedly reminded here that America isn’t necessarily the good guy here as it was our support of a tyrannical ruler that set a fire under the Iranian people in the first place (sound like Muammar Gaddafi to anyone?). Bottom line, if you’re looking for a movie going experience that is riveting on a personal, political and cinematic level, Argo is one you won’t want to miss.
“Em” is for Movies: 3.7/5
Fast Film Reviews: 4/5
Devil’s Advocates: 4.5/5