Argo

The promotional materials have done a great job of spelling out the framework of Ben Affleck’s “Argo”.

It’s a historical thriller, set during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Six individuals managed to escape the US Embassy as it was being stormed by Iranians (during the hostage crisis of 1979), and now need help to get out of the country.

What the marketing can’t convey though, is the pervasive atmosphere of tension that director Ben Affleck manages to create. “Argo” is an intense and occasionally humorous docudrama that adds to Affleck’s burgeoning streak of excellent projects.

During the storming of the US Embassy in Iran on November 4th, 1979, six American diplomats escaped the siege by walking out a back door to a street unoccupied by protesters. They walked away and sought refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador (Victor Garber).

The 52 Americans remaining at the embassy were captured during the siege and would be held hostage for 444 days.

When word of the six’s escape reaches the CIA, they begin working on a plan to exfiltrate them from the country. Should the Iranian Republican Guards discover them, they’re certain to face execution, and the CIA has learned that the Iranians holding the embassy have begun reconstructing shredded papers in order to try to discover the identities of the missing six.

Enter Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). Tony is an “exfil” expert. With the tentative support of his direct superior (Bryan Cranston), Mendez champions a plan that sounds outrageous… smuggle the six escapees out of the country by pretending to be a Canadian film crew. The plan’s primary strength is its outright brazenness. As opposed to attempting to sneak them across the border in clandestine fashion, Mendez will set them up with passports and cover stories and then walk them straight through an airport, security checkpoints and all.

He realizes however, that in order for his story to hold, it needs a high degree of authenticity. The Iranian government is certain to check into things at several points along the way. Thus, he has to travel to Hollywood and obtain the aid of John Chambers (John Goodman), famed make-up man, who has worked with the CIA before. The two of them enlist Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), and together, the three launch a cheap pre-production of a fake film. They create storyboards, marketing materials, hold casting calls, place ads in Variety, etc.

All that’s left is for Mendez to fly directly into the most hostile, anti-American country in the world and fly out with more people than he came in with.

It’s a riveting, tension-filled affair. Affleck does a remarkable job of recreating the events of the Crisis via reproduction and historical footage. As the angry mobs storm the embassy, there’s a remarkable degree of authenticity and believability. It’s a dangerous, angry, frightening situation. One that echoes throughout the entire film. He also does an incredible job of painting a picture of a country in the throes of revolutionary and anti-American fever. Through what he shows surrounding the hostage crisis and the occasional interspersed historical news bulletin, the audience absolutely gets the sense of a nation gripped with rage. There’s an utterly hostile environment outside the door of the Ambassador’s house, and it’s slowly closing in. You’re given the sense that the six escapees could face death stepping out of the safe house just for being Westerners, let alone being escaped American embassy workers.

The Hollywood segments of the film add some much-needed levity… it breaks up the super tense tone of things for a while. When Affleck’s Mendez works on setting up the film, there’s a great deal of humor involved, and a good deal of Hollywood skewering. Arkin and Goodman, of course, are great, and it’s a lot of fun to see them carry on the mission of pretending to make a ridiculous script with a straight face.

“Argo” is all about the tension, though. It’s a very intense film. It permeates every aspect of the movie. There are six lives on the line… seven once Mendez goes in… and the film never lets you forget it. It’s a solidly constructed, historically factual thriller that’s directed expertly by Affleck. If I had any complaint with it, it might be that it plays its cards a little TOO close to the vest. It’s good that nothing goes over the top just for the sake of it, but there were a couple of times where I thought it was being a little too “low key”. Still, it’s a taut, riveting movie. Easily recommendable. It was one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, and it did not disappoint.

A

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47 thoughts on “Argo

  1. a fine review, Fogs! an acceptable complaint. I thought it’s secrecy…if you will…was a great part. but like you it only bothered a little. I really enjoyed Affleck’s directing and he really has done a good job with this one. and the casting…superb.

    Glad you like this one!

    • Yeah, I wasn’t bothered much, I just was aware that – you know- the movie doesnt have car chases and shootouts and shouting matches… you know how it is. I wound up kind of feeling like it erred on the side of being understated if anything. Thats all.

      Im making my rounds today, I’ll try and stop by and see what you had to say man!

  2. Good review Fogs. This movie kept me entertained and interested in what was going to happen next, but somewhere in the middle I felt like I knew what was going to happen and my interest started to wan a bit. Affleck still does a very effective job as director but something was missing in that final-act to really catch me by surprise.

    • Yeah, I tried to allude to it in my review without giving anything away, but it definitely didnt have that “5th gear”. It got to a certain level of tension, maintained it… and then never “exploded”. Not that it needed to, obviously, but there was something mildly missing for me along the way Dan. I agree.

  3. Mr. Affleck has found his calling! 3 for 3!!

    And intense is the correct adjective. There were moments I found myself scooting to the edge of my seat and quietly directing the characters to walk faster (in my mind) “Go! Go!” :D

    Beautifully constructed and great storytelling. Bravo!

    • He is 3 for 3, without a doubt, but I’m already pretty sure this would be third of the three for me. “The Town” had the insanity of the shootouts, and “Gone Baby, Gone” had that moral conundrum… I didnt feel like this one had anything to rise above those two… may just be me though. I AM definitely a huge fan of both of those films.

      • My guess, and this is pure speculation, is that, in portraying the main character as pained and conflicted, as opposed to, say, assured and driven, Affleck can off-set charges that his film is a propaganda piece that whitewashes controversial American foreign policies toward Iran. He’s not so sure that he’s with the good guys, there’s some guilt and reflection there, and he’s just trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. Could be a subtle manoeuvre to avoid accusations of chest-beating jingoism, although predictable bleating voices of the Chomskyite far-left have already been complaining about this film, without having seen it, purely on the grounds that it doesn’t appear to be the blanket condemnation of the USA, i.e. the only narrative they will accept.

      • MUCH more politically interpretive than I’d have come up with. LOL

        I’m not sure his motivations are to downplay any heroism, etc, but there is a point to be made there that that’s part of the end result, for sure. I think he was more or less just trying to play a guy with a job to do, and stick to the facts rather than over dramatize anything.

        It mildly backfires, I think I would have liked to have seen more out of the character. He comes across mildly… bland. LOL :D

    • Honestly, I think the answer here is fairly simple– it’s because he is. He’s in the middle of a separation from his wife and he’s apart from his son because of work. On top of that he’s under insane stress from his superiors to fix the situation with the diplomats, and nobody really supports him outside of Bryan Cranston (who seems to do so out of loyalty and not so much faith).

      • I suppose you’re right; it just seemed like there was reason for celebration at the end and there was ol’ Affleck sulking. I found his family dynamic a bit underdeveloped and insignificant overall….write on!

  4. I think Affleck is moving into a range as a filmmaker than many werent sure he would graduate to. Good to see both Brian yourself agree on this one!

    Nicely done sir!

    • Thanks Ric. Yeah, Affleck is so carzy in that regard. Who would have thunk it, but I hold him in ten times higher esteem as a director than as an actor. Ironically, the one thing I wish he’d change as a director is to stop casting himself as the lead. LOL

      Not that he’s bad, but… let’s get someone else in some of these, you know? :D

  5. The most amazing thing about the film is how the tension is sustained, even when there is no direct action to heighten it. Being in the embassy before the takeover, being trapped in the ambassadors house, taking a taxi from the airport were all suspenseful and there is no action moving the story forward at those points. Then you add in the usual tense moments, a protest that stops the car, the confrontation in the bazaar, the slipped transmission and the ringing telephone all are typical moments of suspense, and Affleck gets the most out of each of them. And, we already know how it comes out and still it is tense. For my money, the best film of the year so far.

    • Ahhhhh… you stole my reply. LOL. I was gonna say And we already know what happens! But you covered that at the end there :D

      I dont know if I’m going to crown it… there are times when I wanted more out of it. Year ends today, its definitely top ten for me. Probably will still wind up top ten, and if it doesn’t, then thats GOOD news. That means that between now and the end of the year, all the anticipated movies delivered, and a few snuck up on us!!

      I wouldnt argue against it though. Not at all.

  6. WHile I’mnot very interested in this one, it is good to hear that Affleck has finally figured out thriller/action. He could do drama, but he was such a great character/comedic actor but he had ‘hero’ looks and really wanted to do that. So many attempts failed. It is great for him that he finally figured it out.

    • Absolutely. I think he finally latched on to the old addage… if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!

      His own movies are ten times better than 99% of the stuff he did prior to them!

  7. This looked good from the beginning, and it just keeps getting rave reviews all over the place. I still have to see any of Affleck’s directed films. But, three for three on the old watch list….

    • Gone Baby Gone is my favorite. It has an all time great ending, IMO. There’s a moment where the movie presents this kind of ethical “What would you do” moment to the audience, and it’s this really gut wrenching moment. Its great. One of my favorite movies… well… top 50 lets say.

  8. Although I do find it out that Affleck can’t ever seem to stay BEHIND the camera and not jump out in front of it all the time, I will definitely be seeing this, and your review has ensured it! I went around under the delusion that the Town was some folky gangster BS until I finally caved and watched it and now I…kinda love Ben Affleck. So I’ll have to see this :) Great review, it’s nice to see an A grade film from you, Fogs!

    • I’m with you Livi. Not that he’s doing a bad job or anything acting in his own films, I just… want him to OWN directing, as opposed to having a sneaking suspicion that there’s part of it happening so that he can get great acting roles. LOL

      As far as giving an A grade, I’m actually usually kind of a softee… I tend to grade pretty high. Movies lately have been rough though. Never fear, though the Holiday season is right around the corner!! WOO HOO!! :D Big budget blockbusters AND award potential movies. Hells yes! :D

      And “The Town” is great, isn’t it? :D Love that one. Glad you “caved”.

  9. It’s kind of amazing that Affleck gets as much tension out of that ridiculous final sequence as he does (and it is pretty ridiculous), but that just goes to show what a great director can do behind the camera. Everything preceding that climax is so well done, and the climax itself is paced so tightly, that it’s hard to have any misgivings over its fabricated nature.

    And besides that, a) going into Argo it would be naive to assume the film would adhere to total verisimilitude, and b) the movie is kind of a giant meta-comment intended to deride and mock Hollywood’s foibles. In fact, I think it might be fun to do a big reading of the film through that prism; Argo hints at and deftly captures the wonder and joy of the movies, yes, but it’s also cynical and jaded about the institution of Tinseltown.

    For me, this might be Affleck’s best. It certainly announces him as one of America’s most important contemporary directors, and it certainly has him operating on a scale previously unseen in his other work. If nothing else, he’s getting the last laugh at the expense of his critics.

    • I kind of wish they had focused more on the Hollywood lampooning. That was SO much fun. I love Arkin, he cracks me up. And of course, as a fan of movies and movie making, that part of the movie was just sooo enjoyable. :D

      I’m in agreement with you. Whatever liberties they DID take – like, I’m sure they didnt get chased down the runway during takeoff, LOL – were minimal, and it does seem to fit in well as a movie.

      I still think Gone Baby Gone is the best, personally. That story is fantastic, its not shackled by the need to stay grounded or anything, so he was able to really just make a great piece of fiction with that gut wrenching decision moment at the end. Love that one.

      This was rock solid, but somehow, not as spectacular for me.

  10. Thanks for a super review. This one has my vote so far as best movie of the year. (Have to see the new Bond and The Hobbit yet.) Couldn’t believe the tension surrounding the escape, even though we knew what would happen in the end. I give it A+.

  11. Great write up, very good film.I thought it was really impressive the way he manages to mould the farcical comedy and tension in a coherent and flowing way. It’s definitely my favourite of his so far. Amazing to think that back in 2003 (Gigli and Daredevil) his career seemed to be heading into a downward spiral, seems like a long time ago now!

  12. Since I subscribed, I read your reviews before and after I see a movie. I know I’m very late lol but you promised an intense movie and I got one! I was in a relaxed sitting position on my bed when the movie started but soon enough I was gripping my pillow, heart pounding hard and trying to push and lift the plane inside my mind before I found my breath again! exhale! haha…superb movie and superb review fogs! Definitely, one of the movies Affleck can call his materpiece. Very well directed and great casting! The 6 escapees really looked liked the real ones. When you feel like your almost falling off your chair, Goodman and Arkin pulls you back haha… Love it! An A+ for me…Best Picture indeed!

    • Well, very glad to hear that Lotis, what a nice compliment. :D

      Definitely one of the best of the year for me, like you mention, it was super intense. That final scene when they’re trying to board the plane was a total nail bitter!

      Affleck has kept his streak alive, there’s no doubt. If you havent seen Gone Baby Gone or The Town, be sure to catch those, too, he’s really on a hot streak! We’ll see if Argo stands a chance at any Academy Awards, I believe it won the BAFTA award, so that might be a good sign!

      Glad to hear you liked it! :D

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