Affleck’s ‘Argo’ Keeps Audiences Guessing
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Directing his third feature film and first set outside of Boston, Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Town) has proven once again that he is a talent behind the camera, as well as in front of it. Argo is an impressive and gripping tale of the rescue of six Americans from Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
Based on true events, the movie tells the story of CIA Specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck), whose mission is to bring home six Americans who are in hiding at the Canadian ambassador’s home. The trouble is that these six escaped from the American Embassy when it was taken hostage by Iranian militants and are currently being hunted. Trying to leave out of the airport would be pointless because all Americans caught in Tehran are being executed.
Set in 1979, a popular time for science-fiction movies, the plan hatched by Mendez is to smuggle the Americans out of the country by posing as a Canadian film crew. The “production team” is currently looking for locations to shoot their new sci-fi adventure, Argo. To make the story as plausible as possible, Mendez even heads to LA to get help from Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (the hilarious Alan Arkin). After getting the Hollywood men involved in the story, Mendez travels to Tehran to meet the escapees.
Led by Mendez, the six men and women must quickly learn their new personas before trying to board a plane leaving from the Tehran International Airport. With their Canadian passports, they will be free to escape the country, as the Iranians are only targeting Americans.
Meanwhile, Mendez’s somewhat preposterous plan is causing quite a controversy at the White House. Although initially accepted by the CIA, President Jimmy Carter must also approve the plan. Climbing the ladder to reach him is the hard part, as Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan (Kyle Chandler) is initially unsupportive of the rescue mission.
The tension created in the last act of the film is both impressive and memorable. Affleck literally has the entire audience on the edge of their seats, wondering if the American workers are going to make it out of Tehran. When the crew is pulled over for questioning, the audience, too, is given the feeling they are about to be interrogated. One of the most interesting decisions made was to not give any subtitles to the Iranian militants. This is key to creating an anxiety-filled atmosphere that is undeniably realistic. Like the hostages in the film, the audience is forced to only guess what the militia is chanting and what questions are being asked of the escapees. The only person who gets subtitles, therefore, is the hostage who is able to speak Arabic.
The production design is also worth mentioning. The brilliant costumes and sets look like they came straight out of either the late ’70s or early ’80s. The large-rimmed glasses, mustaches, and shaggy haircuts sported by much of the cast are very convincing of the time period. They also add a fun element to the movie that helps lighten the tone in certain scenes.
Of course, the acting is exemplary as well. As a director, Affleck has already proven that he can get the best from his cast. While there isn’t necessarily a standout performance, the large ensemble as a whole genuinely works and helps to maintain the realness of the story. The chemistry between Affleck, Goodman, and Arkin during the Hollywood scenes does deserve mentioning because it helps to bring a lighter tone to the film. When together, the men coin the terribly funny catchphrase, “Argo F—k Yourself,” which sticks throughout the movie.
After debuting at both the Telluride International Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival in September, Argo and director Ben Affleck have been garnering a lot of positive Oscar buzz. Expected to be a big player and probable Best Picture contender at the Academy Awards, the film is worthy of the praise it is receiving. While it is far too early to say Argo is the best film of the year, the movie has what it takes to continue to impress audiences. Most importantly, this is a movie that will undoubtedly be a crowd-pleaser. The film is gripping and intense. It’s entertaining in a way that other Oscar players, such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, can’t be. A wide audience can appreciate this film and will hopefully embrace it—Argo certainly deserves it.