“This is the best bad idea we have sir…by far”
-Jack O’ Donnell
Ben Affleck may be a bit polarizing when it comes to his acting career, but his directing career up to this point has been excellent with two very outstanding films The Town and Gone Baby Gone both receiving numerous awards and critical acclaim as well as moderate box office success. His latest film Argo attempts to give his directing career more genre diversity as it is a historical thriller that covers the recently declassified events that took place during Iranian Hostage Crisis that begins in 1979. Can Affleck successfully take on this historical event and do it justice or should he stick to more personal character dramas?
Argo begins with an incredible opening sequence that starts with a monologue that details the events that lead to the crisis. This opening scene details the final moments in the U.S. embassy before the Iranian protesters finally break in and begin taking captives. This sequence is probably one of the strongest in the whole movie as intensity is bursting at the seams throughout this scene. After this incredibly strong and memorable opening the movie follows six people who managed to escape to a Canadian ambassador’s home for the duration of the crisis. The movie then shifts to the perspective of Tony Mendez(Ben Affleck), a CIA agent who is trying to find a way to get the six escapees out before they are found out and possibly executed. After tossing around many ideas with his supervisor Jack O’ Donnell(Bryan Cranston), Tony comes up with the idea to convince the Iranians that the six escapees are actually members of a Canadian crew hoping to shoot on location in Iran. While it seems like a long shot, O’ Donnell gives him the go ahead as there do not seem to be any other viable options. Tony goes to Hollywood to enlist academy award winning make-up artist John Chambers(John Goodman) and director Lester Siegal(Alan Arkin) to create a fake movie to produce to sell the story. Tony must work not only to put his plan into action, but must also convince the government that his seemingly far fetched idea will work. The film eventually builds to an incredibly intense final act that despite its obvious historical ending still manages to keep the audience biting their nails on the edge of their seats.
Despite the fact that this movie is based on actual history, the movie manages to take you along for a ride that somehow convinces you that the conclusion is still up in the air. This movie is immaculately paced with an incredibly strong opening, exposition that excels at delivering humorous and engaging dialog, and a final act that reaches to pulse pounding levels of intensity. In many ways Argo is filling a void that has been missing in cinema in recent years which gives the film plenty of room to feel fresh by giving us scenarios that don’t seem cliche or contrived. The movie is constantly being clever with its use of dialog, but also in how it constructs the exposition, never leaving a moment that feels wasted or out of place. The script written by Chris Terrio is excellent with its tight storytelling and smart, if not a bit dark, sense of humor.
This movie has a rather large supporting cast, but the only character you see for a significant amount of time is Tony Mendez. Tony has a little bit of back-story related to his son whom gives him the idea for the fake movie which does him a bit more depth, but in the end seems a bit unneeded. It is a minor complaint, but I think it is worth noting. I also think that of all the performances in the movie, Affleck’s is probably the weakest. He is the lead which certainly leaves him with more to criticize, but I found the supporting cast to be superior to his performance. I suppose in a cast that has Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Kyle Chandler among other great actors, there is bound to be a weak link somewhere. I do not mean to be overly critical, Affleck turns in a fine performance, but it is unfortunate that as the lead his performance is the weakest. The rest of the movie does a great job at giving this huge cast humanity as each of these characters is given something to do and a moment to really fill in many of the blanks that will never be filled. While we do not get to know each of the captives or the people housing them, we certainly can relate to the humanity in the situation which for most of the people involved is all we really need in terms of character work. This movie excels at giving us this emotional connection to all of the the characters.
Ben Affleck’s direction here is marvelous as it manages to keep the fast movie plot, large cast of characters, and both dramatic and funny sides of the tone consistent. All of these elements work together to keep this movie moving. Affleck manages to bring a tone that certainly is very dramatic, but he takes plenty of liberties by inserting a sort of dark and witty humor that keeps the movie from actually deflating the stakes of the film. Affleck’s direction also grabs you and pulls you into this reality that this movie is portraying. The opening movie sucks you in and the film does not let go until the credits role. Affleck’s unique style paired with the script by Chris Terrio are so complementary of each other that it is hard to see how this movie could have worked without the two. Affleck has proven himself very capable twice already, but thanks to his unique understanding and portrayal of reality matched by his superior camera work makes him something exceptional. Affleck may yet be one of the greats of film making.
Overall Argo is a rare movie that caters to a more adult audience because of its sophistication, tone, and intense story it’s trying to tell. Do not mistake the descriptor of adult with vulgar and graphic, but what I mean is that it has a certain style and elegance that adults would generally appreciate from a film. This type of adult film has become more and more of a rare commodity in the mainstream as most of the biggest films put out cater to a younger more teenage audience. Argo manages to deliver an elegant and possibly even masterful film here with it’s smart, tight, and intricate script that is only matched by Affleck’s direction. Make no mistake folks, this will be a film you will see pop up during Oscar season this year, and rightfully so. This is certainly a movie I would recommend to fans of history, but I would also say that people interested in films that cater to a higher brow audience should check it out.
The story of Argo opens stupendously with a scene that grabs you and the story does not let go until the final moments of the film. The script is excellent with very few scenes at all feeling less than essential and each of them manages to pack a punch in every scene including exposition. While the movie surely takes some liberties with the actual events, the movie never feels unbelievable or out of the realm of possibility.
Character/ Acting: 9.0
The entire cast is excellent save for Affleck(and the presentation of Tony Mendez) who is only solid. This may seem like a nitpick, but his performance that is not exceptional stands out all the more in a cast of impressively well written and acted characters. Aside from his lead the movie does an incredible job at giving the audience a strong connection with all of the characters, even the ones who have little screen time.
Argo is Affleck’s best film yet, especially in terms of his style which is growing more defined with each of his films. He manages to bring all of the elements of a great movie together with the script, cinematography, character portrayals, ect. , but does not stop there as Affleck appears to have gone the extra mile by portraying this story that sucks you in. Ben Affleck has a way to go, but is slowly proving to be on of the best out there with his fresh and unique take on familiar genres.
Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 9.5
Argo is an excellent movie, and in fact I would say it is one of the best films that I’ve seen this year. It is without a doubt successful as a historical thriller that immerses the audience into its story and creates tension that is constantly keeping the audience on edge despite the fact that the history points to an obvious conclusion. Affleck as Tony Mendez may be the weak link, but when your weak link is still really solid, you know you’ve got a great movie on your hands. Look for this film during Oscar season.
Overall Score: 9.5
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