In the eyes of many, Ben Affleck has gone from “zero to hero” after starting his directing career. He came on strong with the critical darling, “Gone Baby Gone,” and proved he was the real deal with, “The Town,” back in 2010. With “Argo,” Affleck is back, directing his third feature film (the second in which he stars).
This “based on a true story” look at a group of six American would-be hostages in Iran who have the unlikely probability of survival seems like your average Hollywood drama. Where it becomes exciting and unbelievable is their plan of escape. With the CIA’s Tony Mendez (Affleck) by their side, Mendez and the hostages try to flee the country by posing as a Canadian film crew on a location-scouting trip for a science-fiction film called Argo. The distance they go to make this fake movie production seem as real as possible is beyond amazing. They have a script, storyboard ideas, promotional poster designs, a producer (Oscar winner Alan Arkin) to stand behind it, and they even have a table read with a bunch of small time actors for a publicity stunt. All the pre-production elements of film making come together to tell a fascinating story about the human spirit and the way we fight for one another when the odds are against us.
The pacing of this film is excellent, and all the credit goes to Ben Affleck. He sets up scenes of tension so well that you are concerned for the safety of these people all the way through. Even when they are just sitting in a room talking to one another, you can feel the helplessness they face and you worry for them at all times. The final 45 minutes of this film was stressful in all the right ways by making you worry and tense up as the clock runs out for these characters. Every tick of the clock brings a life or death situation with it. I haven’t been this engaged in a movie in a very long time and this film literally had me on the edge of my seat and a drop or two of sweat forming on my face. Affleck fills the screen from beginning to end with suspense that engages the viewer and makes them care about everything that is happening.
Affleck’s films are becoming known for their outstanding supporting cast. “Argo” has three great ones that bring out the fun, the energy and the serious side to the movie. As I mentioned before, Alan Arkin plays a big time Hollywood producer who agrees to be the driving force behind this fake motion picture in order to legitimize it and make everyone believe that “Argo” is actually in production and not a scam.
Arkin is arguably the funniest one in the film. He’s a sarcastic, yet caring guy who helps them despite his better judgment and skepticism that the plan will actually work out in their favor. John Goodman, playing my personal favorite character, is embodying the Oscar winning makeup artist, John Chambers. Bryan Cranston gets to play the stereotypical government agent who always seems angry and follows orders we know as the audience are a bad idea, but seem good to him at the time. Cranston is great in the role; I just wish he had a bit more to do. He really made the character memorable through his ability has a skilled dramatic actor, but I felt the character itself was so thinly written that he ended up being the weakest of the bunch. If I were to guess, I’d say if any of these gentleman were to walk away with an Oscar nomination this year, it would be Alan Arkin, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Praise must go out to the little things that come together to make the film feel so real. The costumes and set design of a film tend to get overlooked, especially in one as thrilling as “Argo.” Everything was put into place to take you out of our own time and place you right into the late 70s-early 80s era. It sounds like a small compliment because if you are trusted with the task of doing a period piece it should be easy to make your set and actors all look the part, but the way the material is handled and filmed, you literally feel like someone from this event was there to film it all. It’s all very impressive that they can put you in this place and this time so convincingly that you feel like you are a part of it. Mustaches, long hair and saturated color are put to full use here and it works.
I went into “Argo” with high expectations. “Gone Baby Gone” was an amazing first feature for Affleck to tackle and “The Town” was one of my favorite films from 2010. So, for him to tell a true and serious story about Hollywood’s involvement in saving American would-be hostages, I was hooked by the description alone. I’m happy to say that “Argo” exceeded my expectations by a mile, maybe even more. It had everything I want to see in a movie and did it all with heart and soul. It was funny, thrilling, character-driven and above all else, real. I could not take my eyes off the screen from beginning to end and I hadn’t felt this way in a movie theater all year. I was nervous for these people. But why — this happened years ago, on the other side of the world and it’s just a movie after all. Why did I care so much? Because the story is so rich and set up so perfectly, that you can’t help but be fully invested. The packed theater I saw it in was full of people who felt the same way. I could hear people gasping for air the more intense it got, and it seemed like everyone let out one giant exhale as the journey ended. There’s always the possibility that another film released sometime in the next couple months could surpass this one on my Best Films of the Year list, but the bar is set pretty high right now. “Argo” is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
- Christian Becker