Review: Argo

Oct 19, 2012

Ben Affleck’s newest film as a director, Argo, is a textbook example of how to make a first-class Hollywood movie from an actual event, and keep it moving, interesting, suspenseful, and sometimes funny.

In 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran was stormed by Iranians who took the staff hostage for 444 days…all but six. Those six made their way to the Canadian ambassador’s home, where they were given shelter. The tough part was getting them out of the country alive. If they were discovered to be escaping Americans, surely they would have been publicly executed to set an example, and who knows where that would have led.

A CIA tactical hostage extraction expert Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, hatches a plan to enter Iran as a Canadian film producer scouting locations for a new movie called Argo. This will take coordination with the Canadian government. The six Americans will join in as crewmembers, with Canadian passports, and all will fly out together. Sounds simple in the conception, but not so easy in the execution in such an unstable location. But can there be any suspense in a story in which the outcome is a given? You bet there can! Affleck and his Oscar-nominated film editor William Goldenberg layer Argo with stretches of tension that are nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat scenes, which will have you thoroughly caught up in the proceedings.

Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, a local office to cover for the film being made is set up using makeup artist John Chambers, who has CIA connections, and producer Lester Siegel, with plenty of Hollywood connections, set about making the fake seem real. Yeah…just like in Hollywood. These guys are played by the great John Goodman and Alan Arkin, who have their best roles in ages. You’ll be tempted to say “I want to see more of them,” but they are there to break the tension, not as comic relief.

The six American escapees are well played, although basically superficial characters. That’s understandable, because to give them all a back-story would add too much padding to the screenplay and slow the pace to a crawl. Suffice to say all six performers are up to their assignments. As are Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador, and Bryan Cranston as Affleck’s superior at the CIA, among others.

Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat contributes another fine original score, which adds a lot to the climactic sequences.

My guess is that Affleck and company did take some dramatic license with the actual events toward the end, such as the split-second timing of the escape and such, but hey… it’s a Hollywood movie. It’s required that as much excitement be squeezed out of a situation without, hopefully, being ridiculous. With his third venture as a director, Ben Affleck has established that he is one terrific filmmaker. I can’t wait to see his next outing.

Oh… and you probably hear from friends on occasion “you have to stay through the end credits” for some reason or another.  In Argo, the end credits contain side-by-side photos of the escapees as played by the cast and the original passport photos of the real-life participants. It’s fascinating stuff, and well worth the extra couple of minutes in your seat.

The R-rated Argo is now showing just about everywhere.