ARGO (Dir. Ben Affleck, 2012)
Actor/director Ben Affleck more than tops THE TOWN (which topped GONE BABY GONE) in his splendid third thriller, ARGO, a sure-fire Oscar contender that boasts a stellar cast, and an über-arresting story.
Based on a previously little known story about the rescue of six Americans from Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, Affleck’s film casts its way back machine spell in the first few minutes starting with the use of Saul Bass’s classic ‘70s Warner Brothers logo (also used this year in Steven Soderbergh’s MAGIC MIKE). A few minutes later, we see authentic looking footage of the storming of the American Embassy in Tehran.
After burning and shredding every document they can, a group of U.S. Diplomats flea the embassy and take shelter at the Canadian ambassador's home nearby.
As CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez, Affleck brainstorms a plan involving disguising the escapees as a film crew visiting Iran to scout locations for a sci-fi flick named “Argo” so they leave the country under cover.
It’s a plan so crazy, it just might work, or as Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as a CIA higher-up says to an even higher-up Philip Baker Hall (see what I mean by a stellar cast?): “This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.”
To make a fake movie, they need a real producer so Affleck gets Alan Arkin as the fictional Hollywood mogul Lester Siegel, who has some of the best lines as well as the film’s catch-phrase, if you will. John Goodman as make-up artist John Chambers (not fictional) is also on hand, and also good for a few choice lines.
We spend a little quality time with the frightened Americans (Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane, Kerry Bishé, and Christopher Denham) holed up at the Canuck’s makeshift safehouse hoping to avoid detection. They understandably are skeptical of Affleck’s idea, but what choice do they have?
Chris Terrio’s no-nonsense screenplay, based in part on Joshuah Bearman’s 2007 Wired article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran,” doesn’t strain as it keeps each point of the well-crafted narrative in check.
At first, it might amusingly look like ANCHORMAN, with the Jimmy Carter-era hairstyles and fashions, but that quickly fades into the great grainy look of the film in which cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, BABEL) suitably evokes ‘70s cinema.
Affleck’s film only falters when the mission is almost aborted before the third act, and our leading man sulks until he gets his mojo back. Throughout ARGO, close-ups of Affleck’s bearded mug dominate the screen, but during this bit they are overly omnipresent.
Otherwise, Affleck has made a great movie that could be seen as a salute to the American can-do spirit, as cheesy as that sounds. But primarily it's a movie made by a guy who really loves movies, and really knows how to sell a story.
Watching this guy, with his cast and crew succeeding in selling this story makes for one of the most intensely entertaining movies of the year. And not only is ARGO is Ben Affleck's best movie as director, it's his best work as an actor. By far.