Argo (2012 Warn Bros.)
A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.
Directed by Ben Affleck | Produced by Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney | Screenplay by Chris Terrio | Story by Tony Mendez (book), Josh Bearman (article) | Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman
Everyone LOVES a good caper! And, at its heart, that is precisely what Argo is: a caper punctuated by great performances and high-tension drama as the CIA works to bring home six Americans on the run in Iran shortly after the fall of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
This was a rather depressing moment in recent American history. I distinctly remember the fall of the embassy and the beginning of the hostage crisis in 1979. What is amazing is this story about the six American fugitives was happening at the same time. Argo focuses on CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and his most unconventional plan to bring home the six fugitives. Even though Mendez is our protagonist, an overwhelming sense of danger for the hostages and fugitives serves as a constant and steady drumbeat throughout Argo. Credit Affleck the director to ensure Argo doesn’t come off as a vanity piece for Affleck the actor.
Despite the tension and urgency to extract the fugitives, Argo tells the story of creating a film production as the front with humor; lots and lots of humor. I suppose it’s impossible to not use humor when Mendez’s Hollywood accomplices Alan Arkin and John Goodman share the screen. Arkin, in typical fashion, steals every moment he’s in the film, punctuating every line with that Arkin voice. But it’s John Goodman who delivers one of the funniest lines directly to Affleck’s Mendez character as they’re hatching the phony film crew plot. “You can teach a Rhesus monkey how to be a director in a day,” deadpans Goodman, as make-up artist John Chambers, to Mendez. Inside joke? Too close to call, but very funny.
Bryan Cranston deserves recognition for his role as Jack O’Donnell, Mendez’s boss at the CIA. Cranston is one of those actors who can play comedy and drama with equal believability. Argo boasts a great cast of “ooh, THAT guy” actors: Victor Garber (Canadian ambassador), Zeljko Ivanek (White House staffer), Bob Gunton (CIA operative) and Richard Kind (Hollywood screenwriter).
As a director, Affleck is distinguishing himself as this generation’s Robert Redford. An actor with leading man good looks and box office appeal, but is almost better working behind the camera. And, like Redford, he has a knack for telling very human stories in the middle of chaos. With Argo, Affleck strikes a perfect balance between the homeland efforts of the CIA with the fugitive scenes in Iran. We are never too far away from Tehran or Washington, D.C. in our minds during Argo.
As with any great caper movie, Argo does not disappoint. Its climactic scenes bubble with tension and balance on the edge of disaster right until the very end. Is it fair to take such artistic license with the truth? Of course it is. Argo isn’t pretending to be a documentary. But the tension and drama is certainly germane to the story, as I’m sure the six fugitives felt it everyday they were hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s home.
A truly fun, fast-paced, enjoyable movie, Argo succeeds at telling a dramatic true story without being revisionist or sappy.
RATING: **** (out of 5)