Movie Review – Argo (2012)

Argo, 2012.

Directed by Ben Affleck.
Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Taylor Schilling, Kyle Chandler, John Goodman, Zeljko Ivanek, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan and Victor Garber.

SYNOPSIS:

A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

It’s the 4th of November 1979, the Iranian revolution is in full swing and militants storm into the U.S Embassy in Tehran capturing fifty-two American citizens and taking them hostage. In the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. Knowing that it will only be a matter of time before the six are found out and quite possibly captured and killed, both the Canadian and American governments ask the CIA to resolve their dilemma. The CIA need to find a way to get the six Americans out of the country quick sharp, which will be a near impossible task given the current political climate. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) the CIA’s top “exfiltration” expert (specialist in getting people out of hostile situations) is called upon to give his opinion. After hearing various ludicrous suggestions such as smuggling bikes into the country for the six to pedal unnoticed for several hundred miles to safety, Mendez comes up with an idea so implausible and outrageous that it can only happen in the movies.

Mendez’s journey in Hollywood begins as he visits his friend John Chambers (John Goodman), who is a Hollywood master of prosthetics; his work had earned him an Academy Award in 1969 for his contribution to the make-up on the movie Planet of the Apes. Chambers agrees to help Mendez in his plan to rescue the six Americans along with Hollywood producer friend Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).

The plan is to make a fake movie, but in order to build a credible cover story they would have go about this task as if they were really going to make a Hollywood movie, which means finding a script that requires a Middle Eastern setting, create posters, storyboards, costumes, create some buzz in the papers… all the things you would do in pre-production. This would all culminate in Mendez, posing as an associate producer flying into Iran, giving false Canadian passports to the six Americans, claiming that they are scouting locations for a Canadian science-fiction movie, and then flying them out. Piece of cake!

One of things that makes Argo such a fascinating and riveting movie is the fact that this extraordinary series of events actually happened in real life. Even the screenwriter Chris Terrio, who brilliantly scripted this movie, bringing a genuine sense of humanity to the real life outrageous exploits of the CIA expert, said that if he had pitched this as an original concept to studio execs they would have told him that no audience would ever believe such a story. Equally as impressive is the prowess that Ben Affleck shows in helming such an intriguing story.

Affleck manages to successfully portray the treacherous situation that the six American find themselves in with a gritty realism that really gives the audience a genuine sense of the perilous circumstances in Tehran; yet at the same time he effortlessly balances this drama with the right mix of dry wit, humour and glamour in the Hollywood scenes with Mendez attempting to bring this fake movie together. Watching the scenes in Iran and the interjecting Hollywood scenes is almost like watching two separate movies but Affleck manages to combine the two like a seasoned veteran.

Most of the humour is supplied by the superb John Goodman and Alan Arkin who have some of the best lines in the film such as “If I’m gonna make a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit!” The chemistry between the two characters is excellent and provides a welcome relief from the tension in Iran.

In Argo, Ben Affleck has managed to put together a great ensemble cast of stellar actors who may not be household names but are certainly one of the reasons Affleck has been able to produce such a masterpiece of filmmaking. Actors such as Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Tate Donavan (Damages) and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) all put in superb performances which add to the credibility of the storytelling. Even Affleck’s performance as Tony Mendez is a very low key, downbeat but powerful performance which really captures the CIA agent’s commitment, determination and dedication to his art of exfiltration.

Probably the most compelling reason I feel Argo is such a great film and deserves the plaudits that it’s currently receiving is the “Ben Affleck story” which is nearly as unbelievable as the Argo story itself. It was widely accepted only a few years ago that Ben Affleck’s Hollywood career was well and truly over after starring in a string of absolutely terrible movies such as Jersey Girl and Gigli to name a few. However after taking a brief hiatus he returned with his directorial debut in 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and just like Peter Parker after being bitten by a radioactive spider, he showcased his amazing and seemingly new found skills as a director and even had the foresight to stay behind the camera and leave the acting to his more than capable younger brother Casey Affleck. He then followed that up in 2010 with another masterpiece in filmmaking with The Town.

Even with these two solid films under his belt it seems the media still weren’t really convinced Affleck could make that transition to serious director and perhaps the first two movies were a bit of luck. Granted they were both set in the familiar territory of his beloved home town of Boston, maybe that was his comfort zone? In helming Argo there was certainly no home court advantage, Ben Affleck stepped well beyond his comfort zone and picked a topic that few would believe he could handle with the elegance, grace and authenticity that he has shown in directing this film. Affleck has unequivocally cemented his place in the Hollywood elite of the few successful actor/directors such as George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington (not many people like to mention him but Antoine Fisher is a great movie!)

Yes, a few cynics will point out that Argo doesn’t strictly tell the events exactly how they occurred and there are a few scenes in the movie that are purely for entertainment purposes. Well that’s what makes Argo such a great film and Ben Affleck such a great director. There are scenes in the movie that look so authentic that you could almost be mistaken in thinking you were watching a documentary yet certain scenes were clearly added for dramatic affect and contradict Mendez’s account (of which you can read in full here, seeing as the whole reason this story can be told now is that Bill Clinton declassified the mission in 1997) but it’s the job of the writer and director to tell a story that’s not only engaging, thoughtful and intriguing but also entertaining, and both Affleck and Terrio used their creativity to do exactly that.

Argo is a brilliant movie which creates a genre of its own, mixing a tense political thriller with an Ocean’s Eleven style comedy caper, but as strange as it sounds director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio, along with the supporting cast of actors, make this unique combination work. The result is an inspiring and audacious story of courage, hope and creativity in the face of adversity which is told with flair, style and humour.


Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Jeffrey Aidoo