Month’s back, when I first heard about Ben Affleck’s latest directorial project, Argo, I thought it was a comedy. At first glance, the material, which was plucked from history after recently being declassified, was too outrageous to be anything but comical; however, the trailer made it apparent that this was a very serious movie. After seeing it this past week, I must admit, all the Oscar talk is warranted as it was simply a great movie.
For those who don’t know about Argo, here’s the storyline as written by Kenneth Chisholm on IMDb: “In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was invaded by Iranian revolutionaries and several Americans are taken hostage. However, six manage to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA is eventually ordered to get them out of the country. With few options, exfiltration expert Tony Mendez devises a daring plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. With the help of some trusted Hollywood contacts, Mendez creates the ruse and proceeds to Iran as its associate producer. However, time is running out with the Iranian security forces closing in on the truth while both his charges and the White House have grave doubts about the operation themselves.”
Affleck not only directed the film, he starred as the aforementioned Mendez. Before I get into Affleck’s acting chops, let me just say that I think he’s a hell of a director. This was his third major film, which followed the critically acclaimed Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), and I’ve been impressed with them all. Affleck has earned my respect as a director and I look forward to his future projects.
With that said, I’ve always been hesitant regarding Affleck’s acting abilities. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve never considered him anything more than a mediocre performer. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been satisfied with Affleck, just never blown away. I liked him in Reindeer Games, Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, Smokin’ Aces and The Company Men, just to name a few, but he didn’t perform exceptionally. He didn’t do that in Argo either, but admittedly his portrayal of Mendez is was fulfilling.
What Affleck did have was a strong supporting cast, and together they brought the story to life. Alan Arkin and John Goodman did tremendous as two Hollywood vets who helped bring the film within the film to “life”, and both are being mentioned for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. I’ve long thought Goodman was a talented actor, and it’s nice to see him finally get his due. Other stand-out performances were delivered by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, who played CIA handler Jack O’Donnell; and Clea Duvall (no relation to Robert Duvall), who played hostage Cora Lijek.
Argo had an interesting storyline anchored in history and supported by a strong cast. At no point did I feel the film lagged; in fact, I think Affleck did a stupendous job injecting tension into what were fairly blasé situations. I quickly became invested in the characters and at times it felt as if I was among the hostages trying to escape with my life. It’s not often that a movie is able to establish that sort of connection.
I was also impressed with the time period modifications. The film takes place in 1979, and everything was spot on. From the outfits to technology, a great deal of attention was paid to every detail, which gave the entire film a sense of authenticity. It also made me wonder how different crises were back in they day without the convenience of cell phones and the Internet.
If you’re looking for an action-packed shoot-em-up film, Argo’s not for you (I don’t recall a gun being fired in the movie); however, if you want a top-notch thriller driven by performance, dialogue and suspense, then look no further. Argo is one of the best films of the year, and I recommend you see it while you can,
Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 87%