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Argo

2013-01-25 17:10
 
Ben Affleck once again proves himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood right now with a tense, remarkably real story about a fake movie that saved the lives of American hostages in revolutionary Iran.
ben affleck,argo
What's it about?

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was stormed by militant supporters of the Iranian Revolution. Fifty-two Americans were taken hostage, but six managed to escape and took sanctuary in the Canadian embassy. Tony Mendez, an exfiltration specialist for the CIA, comes up with an audacious rescue plan to get the six out of Iran.

What we thought:

Ben Affleck is one of the best directors working in Hollywood right now. Now there's a sentence I never imagined writing. It's absolutely true, though. Like George Clooney (who is credited as a producer on this film), Affleck is an actor-turned-director with an eye for a good yarn and an actor's eye for good characters and performances. He showed great promise with his debut directing effort, Gone Baby Gone, then showed it again with his sophomore The Town, and now, with Argo, he validates that promise.

Argo takes Affleck out of the director's native Boston, which featured his first two films and moves the action to Washington, Hollywood and Iran. The film wastes little time getting to business, kicking off with a startlingly executed sequence of the attack on the embassy (a sequence that hits all the harder what with the more recent attack on the US consulate in Libya).

When it becomes clear that there are six Americans who managed to escape and are hiding out at the Canadian embassy, Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) is roped in by the CIA to formulate a plan for a rescue. That Mendez's plan owes itself partly to Battle for the Planet of the Apes should clue you into its sheer absurdity.

The plan? Give the Americans fake Canadian passports, train them to act like a film crew and get them out of Iran under cover of being a film crew scouting for locations for a Star Wars knock-off called Argo. But it wasn’t enough just to have the trapped Americans walking and talking like seasoned moviemakers.

The cover had to go so far that anyone giving things more than a cursory glance had to be convinced that this was indeed a film going into production. Movie posters advertising the film were placed in trade magazines, concept art was created for the design of the film and there was even a full script reading with actors in full costume with the press present. It was the sort of plan that required skill, daring and an unswayable faith in the whole thing actually being doable. Like one of the characters says, "This is the best bad idea we have, sir." It was absurd, but then, perhaps it was its absurdity that made it such a great plan.

It's the actual setting up of the fake movie, where we meet John Goodman's make-up artist and Alan Arkin's movie producer ("If I’m gonna make a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit!") that proves to be the funniest part of the film. It's also the part of the film that risks undermining the drama of the whole thing.

The ridiculousness of the Hollywood machine coupled with the gravity of the hostage crisis might have made for a film that was tonally out of synch, but Affleck the director manages to juggle these two aspects of the film so that any clashes in tone are avoided.

Argo benefits too from a solid script that does as well with the tense scenes in Iran and Washington as it does with the lighter stuff set in Hollywood. But where Argo really does well is in its casting. Casting lesser known actors in the roles of the hostages was a smart move, as audiences are more likely to buy into the plight of the trapped six when they’re not distracted by a big name. Of the six hostages, it's Scoot McNairy, as Joe Stafford, the hostage most reluctant to go with the plan, who makes the strongest impression and whose character gets a wonderful moment to shine in an entertaining scene at the airport.

And with Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler and Chris Messina, Affleck really has got the cream of the Hollywood character actor crop in his film.

Argo is not entirely without its flaws. The pacing is slightly off, particularly during the second half of its mid-section, which does feel a bit flabby. Still, once it starts to run toward the finish line, things become very tense, building up to a terrific, if slightly tacked on action sequence. It also has an oddly feel-good ending which isn’t clumsily shoved in but rather feels earned and true to the story.

Argo might not Affleck's best film yet (that still goes to Gone Baby Gone), though it is still very good. If you’re partial to the thrillers of 70s, particularly the films of Sidney Lumet, or if you enjoyed Spielberg's Munich, then Argo is a film that could be very well worth your time.

Read more on:    bryan cranston  |  ben affleck  |  movies  |  argo
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(Comments may be edited or deleted at the Channel24 editors’ discretion)
osiris 1/27/2013 2:10 PM
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a must see movie ...... incredibly awesome....till the last scene
andynct 1/28/2013 12:47 PM
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Most of the plot elements used to create tension are entirely fiction and didn't make any sense so I found it irritating. For "based on a true story" a lot of liberties and history was changed to drive up the tension and make it more American. Worth watching, but not Best Director quality. Overrated.
James 1/28/2013 9:17 PM
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Looks like Argo isnt a bad movie afterall. Maybe we should go for it next time
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