With “Argo”, Ben Affleck proves himself three for three in his directorial efforts. First there was 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” the terrific and gritty debut of Affleck’s foray behind the camera. Then his sophomore film, 2010’s heist thriller “The Town,” came out, and proved the Affleck was more than just a one-hit-wonder as a director.
“The Town” didn’t redefine its genre, but it did manage to be one of the more kinetically exciting, well-acted, and satisfying films of its year.
The exact same things could be said about “Argo,” which is the first film by Affleck to leave the subject matter of Boston-area criminals behind.
The year is 1979, and the American Embassy in Iran is being invaded by Iranian revolutionaries. While 56 Americans are taken hostage, six others manage to escape and seek refuge at the Canadian Ambassador’s house. It is the task of the CIA and, more specifically, extraction expert Tony Mendez (Affleck), to get those six Americans to safety.
The plans tossed around are all jokes that range from sending the Americans bikes to ride to the border (the border is over 200 miles away) to having them pose as English teachers at the local college (there are no English teachers left in Iran).
Then Mendez comes up with the team’s ‘best bad idea’: have the six Americans pose as a Canadian film crew scouting exotic locations, with Mendez heading the team.
But first, they need a fake movie to be a part of — thus “Argo”, a science fiction adventure is born.
Helping push the fake film are some of Mendez’s Hollywood contacts: esteemed make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).
Goodman and Arkin are reliably superb and provide most of the comic relief for the film. The most poignant scene of the film is the harrowing opening sequence of the embassy getting overtaken. Other than that, the scenes of trying of trying to get the fake movie done are the most memorable.
Props to Bryan Cranston as well, who plays Mendez’s supervisor at the CIA, for putting out perhaps the best performance from an all-star cast. Cranston is terrific, radiating ferocity and sly morality.
As the plan takes form, the Iranians get closer to finding out the identities of the escapees. No spoilers here, but the climactic scene is among the more tense I’ve seen in a long time.
Unbelievably, “Argo” is based on a true story — a true story that was only revealed when Clinton declassified the mission in 1997.
“Argo” is a phenomenal film because it mixes a prevalent sense of urgency with dark humor and terrific performances. It’s a movie that knows its strengths, and plays to them well. Under Affleck’s self-assured direction, “Argo” is massively compelling and darn near spectacular.
In a year riddled with superb movies, “Argo” is more than able to hold its own; award ceremonies won’t be able to resist.
An intelligent blast of adrenaline, “Argo” is an absolute must-see.