By Gary Murray
Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin
Written by Chris Terrio
Directed by Ben Affleck
Running time 120 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Ben Affleck is a writer/direc/tor/actor who for a few years was known for the A-list company he kept than anything he ever did on the screen. The co-writer of Good Will Hunting was more the arm candy of Jennifer Lopez than praised for his acting skills. Armageddon and Pearl Harbor didn’t do much to gain respect.
Then he made Hollywoodland, a film about the former Superman that showed a more mature grasp on material. Ben then turned toward directing, making Gone Baby Gone and The Town both films that were well received by both critics and audiences. His latest on both sides of the camera is Argo.
Set in 1979, the story is of Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). He is a CIA agent called in to make recommendations on a covert operation. The embassy in Iran has been taken over and dozens of Americans are being held hostage. Fortunately, six escaped when the building was breached and are hiding out in the Canadian Ambassadors house.
The government, headed by Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), is tasked with getting them out. Tony believes that the best way to get the six out is to have a ‘Moses’—a guy who goes in and sets the people free. Our CIA man comes up with a brilliant disguise. Tony decides to fake a major motion picture with shooting in the Middle East. On the location shoot, the Moses will sneak out the Americans who will pretend they are Canadian film makers.
He gets special effects make-up man John Chambers (John Goodman) to help build his cover-up plot. First they need a producer and find Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Once he comes on board, the old producer insists that the film must be a hit. They find the script, a Star Wars style rip-off called Argo. They use Hollywood to build their cover.
Once Tony gets in Iran, he discovers that things are not as he exactly expected. Some of the hidden guests do not trust the plan and Tony. Some think that the best thing to do is stay put. Tony lets the guests know that once the Iranians discover that they do not have all the hostages, capture and execution become a real possibility. The film plays somewhere between an action/adventure yarn and a political espionage tale. It is a story that is so bizarre because it is true.
The most impressive display by the cast is Alan Arkin as the movie producer Lester Siegel. This is a smart and snippy bit of acting that just may be recognized by the Academy come January. As Lester Siegel, he is a no BS kind of man who has an ego and a patriotic streak. It is another strong role in a very long career.
The film basically showcases the acting and directing skills that Ben Affleck has amassed over the last few years. He has gone from stiff leading man to solid character actor, finding solace in hiding behind a beard and scruffy 1970s style haircut.
It is as a director where Ben truly shows his talents. This is a complex story with different elements and he handles them with a certain deft touch. The scenes where the Americans have to get though the levels of airport security are as tense as anything Hitchcock could have put on the screen. Even though the audience knows the outcome of the event, it is still a thrilling ride.
Argo will probably make many critics best of lists come the end of 2012. It is an impressive feat of cinema that should have enough for the masses who just want to go to a movie. It tells a story that few have heard and shows that even in a time of great difficulty, some Americans can come together for the greater good,