Directed By: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina
When the trailer for “Zero Dark Thirty” plays before a screening of “Argo,” you can’t help but to wonder if our society is crazy for having turned these devastating and/or historically significant events into sources of entertainment. However, as someone who wasn’t around during the Iran hostage crisis, the fact that I was moved enough by “Argo” to go home and Google until I had a thorough understanding of the situation goes to show that Ben Affleck did a better job than my history teachers ever could.
Centered on the true events of the Iran hostage crisis, “Argo” begins with the revolutionaries storming the U.S. embassy in Tehran. All of the embassy employees are taken hostage save for six who seek refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s home. The revolutionaries are unaware of the escape, but are slowly piecing together the paperwork the staff desperately shredded mere moments before the invasion, so it’s only a matter of time before they assemble the office roster including pictures of each and every employee.
Back in the U.S., the State Department works to figure out a way to get the six out safely and discreetly. Exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) proposes the idea of using a Canadian film as a cover. In an effort to make the endeavor as thorough as possible, Tony joins forces with make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to make the sci-fi film “Argo” a semi-reality.
Based on a disturbing and riveting true scenario, “Argo” sucks you right in with its authentic roots. There’s just something about stemming from true happenings, especially events that rocked the world not too long ago, that makes a viewer instantly invested. Affleck uses that innate connection to his advantage by presenting the situation in an exhilarating and cinematic manner, while continuously reminding you that these are real people and could lose their lives at the drop of a hat.
The pace slows a bit past the midpoint, but generally, tensions are sky high. Affleck strikes a nice balance between creating a thriller in the common sense of the term – action, suspense and guns – while also offering up a psychological thrill. The U.S. embassy invasion is action-packed and quite violent, but once the six are out safely, the story shifts to plotting mode with Tony hashing out his plan with his cohorts. It’s talk and detail heavy, but the effort is intriguing enough to make you want to see it through.
There are quite a few characters in play and if you miss a beat, it might be tough to place them all, but eventually, everyone makes their mark, delivering at least an unforgettable scene or two, if not more. Affleck’s Tony is the man with the plan, but he’s also the least excitable of the bunch so he’s often overshadowed by his more colorful counterparts. Goodman and Arkin make for a wildly amusing and charming duo, lightening up the material by taking some jabs at the Hollywood machine. Bryan Cranston’s Jack O’Donnell gets a few good jabs in as well, but much more so makes his mark by the lengths he goes to to protect Tony. The escapees do come across as indiscernible victims for a good portion of the beginning of the film, but seeing them take form as the film progresses intensifies the crescendo.
And that’s really the best way to describe “Argo” – one big crescendo. Those looking for firefights, running and hiding might find portions of the film a bit tedious, but by the time you hit the end, it’s impossible to deny that “Argo” truly earns all of your emotions by taking the visceral route. There’s something far more volatile about an entire population of people targeting Americans than a lone super villain about to press the big red button and destroying the world. Even knowing where this story ends, by using hand close-ups during tenser moments and making more intimate shot choices overall, Affleck puts you in the mix right alongside the six, letting you feel the revolutionaries bear down on you, too.
Even after 30 minutes of previews and a two-hour feature, you’re so deeply invested by the time the credits rolls that you just have to stay for another five so you can catch the montage of the characters and their real life counterparts. Affleck certainly did this story justice, trusting the audience with a significant amount of detail and developing suspense on a more cerebral level, leaving you with a deeper respect and understanding of the situation.