Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Director(s): Ben Affleck
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Remember the days of Daredevil, Gigli, and Surviving Christmas? The days when Ben Affleck was everywhere, doing many films a year, most of which turned out horrid? Turns out all it took was for him to step behind the camera and start directing his own films to begin a new career as a person actually worth talking about again. With Gone Baby Gone and The Town, he met critical success, and with Argo his trend of successful films continues. Adapting a true-but-absurd story for Hollywood can be difficult, but its playful nature about it as well as tension-filled moments equate to another milestone in Affleck’s career, showing that the director truly is a master of his craft. Contributed by an ensemble cast that never oversteps their role, Argo is what thrilling and entertaining cinema should look like: never boring the audience, and finding ways to keep them on the edge of their seat even when we know the outcome.
The film is based on a true story about a CIA agent’s attempt to smuggle six American hostages out of Iran, which is currently in the midst of a revolution. Tony Mendez (Affleck) concocts a plan to pretend to make a science fiction film called ‘Argo’ in order to extract the hostages out of Iran safely. As Bryan Cranston says in the film “It’s the best bad idea we’ve got”, and Affleck does a great job at showing that. To not have the tone of the film too jarring between its ridiculous sub-plot and tense overarching situation, all of the comedic elements of the film take place in the beginning of Argo, and we’re slowly worked up to the reality of what’s happening. The movie takes a lot of liberties with taking jabs at Hollywood during its initial set up of the Hollywood movie plotline and taking note of how ridiculous their plan is. Once Mendez travels to Iran to help the hostages escape though, the tone shifts from a “this is absurd” mindset to “we have no choice” in a well-developed transition, as Mendez tries to get into contact with those he loves before he leaves, providing the gravitas of the situation.
Once the audience is brought into the thick of the plot, it becomes obvious just how dire it is to get all seven people out of Iran. Mendez now races against revolutionaries, attempting to perfect everything and leave before they piece together who the six Americans are and that they’re still in Iran. The final moments of this film become a massive game of cat and mouse, but it’s also one of the most tense sequences displayed on the big screen in recent memory. Knowing the ending in no way took away from what was going to happen, and Affleck really shows that he knows what he’s doing here. However, some people may take offense to the fact that they did change the perspective of the story to a more American one, basically saying it’s all because of America’s help that everything went successful and without them these hostages would never have been freed. It’s Hollywood though, and it definitely plays up the Hollywood elements of the film.
And Hollywood is definitely what this film is, supporting an ensemble cast that assist this film in so many ways. Bryan Cranston is great, Alan Arkin is hilarious, John Goodman is entertaining, and Ben Affleck is surprisingly reserved in his acting. No one outshines one another, and in a film that boasts such talent, it’s definitely quite a feat for something like that not to occur. It also shows why this movie is great: Argo downplays actors that other Hollywood films would not be able to resist overusing, and it never takes the focus off of the fact that there is an important hostage situation happening. Even in the films first act where everything is making fun of how Hollywood works, the viewer is treated to cuts to the situation in Iran and how grim of a situation it is there. It’s also hard not to mention the use of old newsreel footage in the film (not sure if it all is genuine footage, but some of it for sure is) and how well it’s incorporated into different scenes, just helping remind the audience that this is a true story.
There were many ways this film could have flopped, from being too political, too jarring in tone, too focused on it’s talent, or just being a boring movie altogether. Fortunately, Affleck has shown in his previous work and continues to display here why he is a great director. Nothing in his repertoire has been even remotely close to average, and it will be interesting to see how he decides to follow-up Argo. And since awards season is officially here, Argo will definitely be a hot contender for best picture when the Academy Awards roll around.
Screening courtesy of The Vancouver Sun.