[Review] – Argo

22 Oct

Title: Argo
Year: 2012
Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Chris Terrio, based on the article by Joshuah Berman
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Clea DuVall, Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Michael Parks, Taylor Schilling, Chris Messina, Richard Kind, Titus Welliver, Kerry Bishé, Philip Baker Hall
MPAA Rating: R, language and some violent images
Runtime: 92 min
IMDb Rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Metacritic: 86

In 2007 there was an article called ‘How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran’ written by Joshuah Berman and published in Wired magazine. I say this first because, if you have or haven’t seen Argo, the masterful new film by Ben Affleck, please Google that article, it’s a fascinating read. So fascinating, in fact, that George Clooney and his business partner, Grant Heslov, were drawn to it and set it up as Mr. Affleck’s third directorial effort after Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

I don’t really know where to begin when talking about Argo. Ben Affleck had grown tremendously as a filmmaker in his first two efforts: Gone Baby Gone was an amazingly gripping thriller with expert performances and The Town was the best heist film the new millennium has seen. If you talk about actors-turned-filmmakers right now his name is at the top of the list and rightfully so, his two films have been ridiculously good and he’s more than proven himself.

Argo, however, is a totally different beast; it’s by far the most ambitious film he’s ever tackled, with the big ensemble and the different tones it goes for, not to mention it’s not set in Boston. Argo is, also, the best film he’s ever done, the one that makes what the other two hinted at: it makes Ben Affleck a director with a masterpiece under his belt. Saying that statement now, after having seen the past two films he made, is totally plausible, but imagine hearing that six years ago, the man has really grown.

And, yes, I said it, a masterpiece. I probably use that word more lightly than most, but I still don’t use it lightly at all, its just that Argo, to me, is as sublime as they get. No wonder, of course, that it came out of both Telluride and Toronto with the most amazing buzz you could imagine and is currently standing as the favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar out of all the films that have been consumed by the general public. Don’t get me wrong, The Master is still (by far) the best film of 2012, but Argo is the one people will like more, and rightfully so.

This is one of those movies that tells a story so unbelievable people wouldn’t but it if it hadn’t actually happened. You see, during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis the militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took over 50 American hostages. However, in the midst of all the chaos, 6 guys managed to slip away and were provided cover by the Canadian ambassador. Seeing as how it was only a matter of time before the half dozen U.S. citizens were found (and, in all likelihood, killed) the CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez, played by Mr. Affleck himself here, comes up with the “best worst plan” to get them safely out of Iran.

The CIA sent their people over there posing as a Canadian film crew who was in Iran scouting for filming locations. They do everything by the book, setting up the fake film studio that was backing this sci-fi movie they were working on and consulting with John Chambers, the real-life make-up expert played here so damn well by John Goodman.

It’s amazing not just because of the story but because of how many different things Argo is. It’s, obviously, a fact-based film and you get every little detail explained in the best of ways here; it’s also a thriller, but it’s done like these kinds of thrillers were done in the 70’s, like All the President’s Men which is to say it’s done masterfully; it’s also a satire about Hollywood and a damn good one at that (which means it’s a movie about movies, which we know the Academy loves); it has some brilliantly timed and acted black comedy; it has amazing dialogue. Even if you only saw the trailer you’d know these different sides of Argo and the variety of tones it was aiming for, the comedy, the thriller, the biopic, it’s all of those things and it’s all of those things in the most perfect of ways.

I love that this comes from Ben Affleck because this is the man that before he became a director was still carrying the stain of Gigli and the first iteration of Bennifer. He’s like the comeback story you love because this was a guy that was being trashed with Razzie nominations, people thinking they’d seen the end of him and now he’s become one of the finest American filmmakers around, and I really mean that, that’s just a great story.

Maybe people who are kind of snobbish about movies won’t love this film because it doesn’t offer a bigger message or because it’s so clearly a movie from Hollywood and to Hollywood, one that literally paints the movie system (and America (and Canada)) as the good guys. But I mean, with Argo what you see is what you get, no more and no less, and it just so happens that you don’t really need more from any movie.

The dialogue here is amazing, it racks up tension and is so damn funny, the directing is stellar and the ensemble is just out of this world. It’s a who’s-who of great character actors even in the most minor roles who all pop up to try and steal scenes from one another and if you don’t like watching Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler and Philip Baker Hall go at it then you’re out of your mind.

That’s the deal with Argo. It’s not the kind of film that when you walk out you think that the director is a sheer genius or that the screenplay was just off the charts or that it had one performance that just blew you away. No, Argo is the film that you just walk out having been entertained like crazy and you think none of those things because it was a team effort, because every single component of this film was doing its work in the most expert of ways and the sum of it was this spectacular film you just got to watch. Though, if you walk out thinking that Ben Affleck is a genius director, that Alan Arkin should get an Oscar nod and that Chris Terrio’s script should also get one, then that’d be perfectly understandable, too.

Because trust me, even if Ben Affleck isn’t an auteur kind of director like Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson are, the stuff he does with this film is tremendous and, in his own way, maybe kind of just as essential to the future of American filmmaking, crazy as that may sound. He nails the awesome pacing this film has, he manages the suspense in the best of ways, handles a large and talented ensemble with ease and knows how to get a terrific sense of humor across. Those things, especially in tandem, are not at all easy things to pull off, yet while you watch this film not for a second do you think that this was a director who was sweating doing any of it.

I don’t know just what to say to close out this review. As if it weren’t obvious, I loved every minute of Argo. I appreciate a film that just wants to entertain and I love it when the execution is so flawless, this is one of my favorite films of the year, one of the smartest and best-acted thanks to a dream ensemble led by the guy who was also behind the camera. Mr. Affleck, in his performance, was actually really quiet, even though his character is pretty much in every single scene, and I loved that, it’s like he doesn’t think much of himself and lets others (like Mr. Arkin and Mr. Goodman) steal the film. He’s fine with it, he’s a mature director who knows what’s best for the film. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Grade: A+

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