I might be biased but I’ve loved the directorial efforts of Ben Affleck from Gone, Baby Gone to The Town. His latest film, Argo, is a worthy entry into the trifecta of films Affleck’s directed and is probably his masterpiece. A taut true-story filled with awards worthy performances and a plot that is reminiscent of our own political landscape. Definitely look for this to enter into Academy Awards discussions in a few months.
During the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1980, six American embassy members escaped and holed up in the house of the Canadian Ambassador. CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) is tasked with bringing the six home before the Iranian government discovers them. His guise for entering the country and saving the group is to create a fake movie, named Argo, to be filmed there.
The true story of this film is one of those “so crazy it might work” tales that you only hear about decades after the fact; so it is with Argo. The Iran hostage crisis has been depicted in films and documentaries but none with an air of the ridiculous to mute the darkness of the tale itself. What works to Argo’s advantage is you don’t just have a hostage film but the story of how Hollywood permeates the cultural landscape. It’s made clear to various characters throughout the film that the mere appearance of Hollywood celebrity can make people do whatever you want. As Tony enters Iran and proceeds to get the group out the country’s government not only wants to ferret out Tony’s lies while at the same time wanting to get publicity for their country during this shocking ordeal! Affleck blends the suspense with the subtle humor never making you feel entirely light-hearted or shocked. There are brief moments of shock, including one scene where you expect hostages to be executed, but it’s counterbalanced with characters like Bryan Cranston or Alan Arkin making jokes. Affleck has created a happy medium allowing the audience to breathe for every moment their left holding their breath. In the films final minutes you’ll be on the edge of your seat because it’s by far the tensest moment within the film. Considering the political climate, with election season and all, Affleck’s opus could not be timelier. The issues with Iran play out to this day and Affleck provides a harsh look at the need for international cooperation with regards to foreign relations.
I’d consider this an ensemble film as all the actors present their best work. Affleck continues to flex his chops, in front of, as well as behind the camera. His Tony Mendez is a man of determination who sees his life’s failings flash before his eyes during this mission. He’s putting his life on the line as well and Affleck plays the character as a broken man who realizes his life won’t mean much if he doesn’t make things good at home with his family. John Goodman and Alan Arkin provide light-hearted laughs as a couple of Hollywood big-shots Mendez enlists and they provide much needed levity. The same for Bryan Cranston who makes a tiny role memorable, particularly when things turn dicey towards the end. The one who walks away with his role is Scoot McNairy as Joe Stafford, one of the six “Houseguests.” Joe has problems trusting Tony, with good reason, and you see an expertly built character arc as Joe grows to trust Mendez. Stafford actually ends up being the savior of the group, not Mendez, in an incredibly tense stand-off with Iranian guards. If McNairy doesn’t see an Oscar for something this year, hopefully this, it’ll be a shame.
The flaws with Argo are mere nitpicks but I should be fair regardless. One scene does show the Canadian Ambassador’s maid entering into Iraq only to cut to an airplane scene of popping champagne. It seems trite to see Iraqi suffering, especially during this time with the Soviets invasion of Afghanistan and other issues, only to cut to white-centric luxury. It’s a nitpick but one that does make you ask “what about the rest of the Middle East at this time?”
So far Argo is my favorite awards contender. It’s rapid-fire, edge of your seat fare that provides astounding performances and a story that only Hollywood (or the US government) could fathom. Highly recommended!