Argo deceives you with its laid-backness and genuine humor. You think you’re watching a true story that entertains with its absurdity. What you’re actually watching is excellent actors playing a high-stakes, genuinely funny at times, story so straight and marvelously that laughter is a welcome release from some remarkably high tension.
This is an extremely well-crafted movie. Ben Affleck and his editing team have done an extraordinary job.
Here’s a trailer:
Released October 12, 2012
Written by Chris Terrio (screenplay) and Joshuah Bearman (article)
Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Clea DuVall, Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Tate Donovan, Victor Garber, Bryan Cranston, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, Chris Messina, Richard Kind, and Kerry Bishe
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It is 1979 and the American Embassy in Iran is under attack, stormed by hundreds of militant protesters who are fed up with American involvement in their government. Six embassy staffers make it out of the embassy via a back door, just as the militants take the place over, taking hostage 52 other embassy staffers.
The six wind up in the Canadian ambassador’s (Garber) residence and keep a low profile, knowing that if the militants find out that six people made it out of the embassy, they will be sought and killed.
The US government is paralyzed, completely incapable of taking action to free their 52 people, but since these escaped six are accessible, they decide to extract them. They ask Tony Mendez (Affleck) to come up with a plan to get the six escapees out of the country without raising attention and making things worse.
Frustrated with inept ideas coming from the state department, Mendez forms a plan to make it look like he is scouting out locations for an exotic scifi film in Iran, through which he hopes to connect with the six and have them be passed off as other film crew. This is a patently absurd idea, but given the ineptness driving the other rescue plans, this plan is “the best of our bad ideas.”
Mendez is given the go ahead by his CIA boss (Cranston) and he recruits John Chambers (Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Arkin) two legitimate Hollywood heavyweights, to help him fabricate a movie that isn’t real but appears as if it were a real project. To make this plan work, they have to make Hollywood believe the film is real, so they find a script, put a cast together, open production offices, and much more. This all has to happen so that if Iranian officials question Mendez and the ‘crew’ as he’s trying to get them out of the country, the movie production can be confirmed as a real thing.
When Mendez finally connects with the six escapees, he is met with hesitation and desperation. Now he has to get them to trust a plan that he himself doesn’t have a lot of faith in– it turns out his faith is in himself and what he can do. He also has to contend with a staid State Department and the militants who are on the cusp of discovering that they are missing some hostages.
The conflict leads to moments of high tension. Add that this is a real story and Argo is truly an engaging, affecting film.
Argo is one of the most flawless pieces of film-making you will see from 2012. The framing, lighting, production design, focus– all are extraordinarily polished and thoughtfully crafted. Ben Affleck is, stunningly, one of the finest filmmakers working today.
The script is in turn hilarious, jaw-droppingly terrifying, squeeze-your-arm-rest-into-jelly tense, and magnificent. It’s even handed, paced perfectly with zero excess or indulgence, and has delicious and authentic dialogue. Video and audio from the time period are absorbed quite seamlessly into the film, making a whole experience that smacks of reality and authenticity.
The acting, for the most part, is a clinic. Affleck still doesn’t seem to have levels beyond overt body language– but the escapees and the dynamics between them work very well. Goodman and Arkin could be a comedy duo; they are brilliant and offer wonderful humor and, in some ways, the final emotional pay-off. John Goodman probably deserves an Oscar nod for his work.
You will adore Argo. The hype isn’t hype, it’s accurate assessment. One of the best movies of the year. Buckle up. The final twenty minutes are heart-stopping.
Content warnings: Lots of harsh language/profanity. Minimal violence.
Writing: 5 Acting: 4.5 Overall: 5
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