You know that a movie is extremely effective when you walk out of the theater and your jaw muscles are still sore from having clenched them due to the high amount of tension and suspense contained within. Not only is Argo such a film, but it is easily amongst the best of the year and a surefire Oscar contender.
The film begins by laying out the history of what led to the Iranian revolution in 1979 and showcases how on November 4 of that year, Iranian students stormed the American Embassy and took 52 hostages. Fortunately there were six Americans that managed to sneak out and avoid capture by taking shelter inside Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor's (Victor Garber) house. Realizing that it is just a matter of time before they are discovered, the CIA has to scramble to come up with a plan to rescue them. Enter Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), an accomplished CIA exfiltration expert. What seems like a mission impossible requires a plan so outlandish and daring that you would never believe it if not for the fact that it actually happened. The plan involved setting up a fake Canadian movie production of a science-fiction story called Argo, which would require desert locations in need of scouting. Mendez would pose as the producer and the idea was to walk the Americans (posing as Canadians) right out through the airport after they had scouted various locations in and around Tehran. They even involved a real Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and a make-up effects expert (John Goodman) to set up a production office in California, pick a script, and plant stories in the trades about the film and its casting. It was, in the words of one character, "the best bad idea the government could come up with."
Ben Affleck once again pulls double duty as director and star of Argo and he does an absolutely superb job with both. He has already made two exceptional films in Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and with Argo I think he really hits his stride in becoming one of the better directors working today. Channeling his inner Sidney Lumet or Alan J. Pakula, Affleck expertly crafts a film that is a masterwork of tension and drama while at the same time infusing it with just enough humour to create moments of levity and make it thoroughly entertaining. The film is paced just right also as Affleck lets the story unfold with constant tension mounting until the gripping, edge-of-your-seat finale where you wonder if they are really going to make it out of Iran alive.
The performances in Argo are uniformly excellent. Affleck is really growing as an actor and he plays Mendez with a quiet determination and resolve to help these people get out of this almost impossible situation. This life has taken its toll on him and his marriage has suffered along with his relationship with his only son and we are able to empathize with him. Alan Arkin steals the show when he's on screen as producer Lester Siegel. Many of the film's comedic moments involve him as well as John Goodman, who plays makeup artist John Chambers. An interesting side-note here is that John Chambers is best known for having worked on the Planet of the Apes films and coincidentally Tony Mendez is shown getting the idea for his plan while watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes on TV. Also giving a dynamite performance is Bryan Cranston as a colleague of Mendez at the CIA. There's a whole host of supporting characters that are played by recognizable faces but the list would be too long for me to write as there's over 100 speaking parts.
Argo is an exemplary example of a smartly written political thriller and the fact that it is based of a true story makes it all the more compelling and riveting. I really do think that Affleck has knocked this one out of the park. He has fashioned a film that is technically accomplished with a meticulous attention to detail and a story-line that still feels relevant today. I can't imagine this film not being considered come awards season.
If you enjoy politically charged dramas that crackle with taut suspense then I urge you to rush out and see Argo as it is likely to be one of the best films you've seen in awhile.
I absolutely loved it.
I give Argo a 9.5 out of 10.
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