Overview: Ben Affleck directs, produces, and stars in a real movie about making a fake movie in his depiction of events that took place during the Iran hostage crisis. Warner Brothers; 2012; Rated R; 120 minutes.
Argo Fuck Yourself: Argo dominated the awards scene and every 2012 end of the year list. By the time the Oscars rolled around, chances are you felt like you’d been beaten over the head with how great of a year 2012 was for Ben Affleck. I am not Affleck’s number one fan, so I was annoyed and naturally skeptical when I finally settled in for a viewing. When a movie has this much hype, sometimes the expectations exceed the results. Argo more than pleasantly surprised me with its seamless storytelling and strong acting.
Waste Not Want Not: The film hits the ground running with the opening scene as we see the United States embassy invaded by Iranian activists. A frenzy of document destruction and escape ensues, as the Iranians race to piece together the identities of the missing Americans and the CIA struggles to implement an extraction. When movie slows down it’s with calculated purpose, translating the high stakes to the audience. When we see the Americans in hiding with Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador, we spend enough time with every person in the house to sense the rising strain and anxiety. Whispered accusations are made and paranoia sets in as each day passes. We can feel the mood change every time the movie revisits the house. The transitions between the events in Iran and the United States are seamless. The journey up to the final 30 minutes of the film creates a palpable tension that proves incendiary when the plan is executed in climactic sequences, which is a high achievement considering the outcome is well known.
A Group Effort: Affleck’s standout contributions are in his directing and producing. Don’t get me wrong, his acting is solid, but the real stars in this film are those in the supporting roles. Alan Arkin’s performance is commendable, his casual directness adding humor to the otherwise no nonsense tone of the film. However, Tate Donovan and the rest of the crew waiting to be rescued from the Canadian Ambassador’s home also deserve major recognition. The mounting anxiety and cabin fever is authentic and convincing as they each react in different ways to being trapped as the Iranians close in. When the farfetched extraction plan is presented, the group’s genuine hesitation and lack of confidence in its success resonates in us as viewers. We can all connect to the way at least one of them responded to the crisis.
Keep it Simple: This film works so well because of its simplicity. This plot could have easily resulted in a convoluted mess that made us laugh when we weren’t meant to. Every scene was thoughtful, and the movie started and ended exactly when needed, resulting in a self-contained, entertaining story and one of the best movies in recent years.