When I first heard of Argo, I had no interest in seeing it. Sure, it was getting great critical reviews, but I didn’t know anything about it except that Ben Affleck directed it and starred in it. I don’t watch much television, so I never saw a trailer that would spark my interest, but this past week, after seeing it nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, I finally decided that I should take my time to find it and watch it. Luckily, the theater in my hometown holds on to movies for a while, so I was able to catch a showing this morning. The only Ben Affleck movie that I can recall seeing is 2003’s Daredevil, which I’ve since forgotten (for a good reason), but Argo succeeds where Daredevil didn’t: for starters, Argo is actually good. In fact, it’s downright excellent.
For those who don’t know, Argo tells the true story of CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez (Affleck) and his mission to exfiltrate six American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Iran by pretending to be a Canadian film crew. As Bryan Cranston’s character – Mendez’s supervisor, Jack O’Donnell – says in the best line in the film, “this is the best bad idea we have…by far.” Yes, the idea sounds ludicrous, but in the film’s execution it comes across as possibly the only thing that could save the hostages from certain death. Ben Affleck plays his role with a hard determination; he knows that so much hinges on this ruse and that so much could go wrong, but his resolve as Mendez shines through. Cranston does an admirable job, as do both John Goodman as John Chambers, a Hollywood makeup artist with a history of helping the CIA with disguises, and Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel…though I’m not sure I would say that Arkin is deserving of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role.
There isn’t a lot of character development in this film, but it isn’t non-existent. One of the hostages is reluctant to participate in the deception, but he eventually realizes that Mendez is putting his own life at risk by trying to save theirs, so he participates and eventually helps to convince the radicals that they are who they say they are. Mendez himself changes a little bit, with the ending visit to his estranged wife and son suggesting that his visit to Iran has helped him to realize the importance of family and of being there for his son.
My favorite moment of the film takes place during a reading of the script for the fake movie that Mendez is pretending to make; as he stands at the table with the fake cast and listens to them read through the script, we are shown everything that is currently happening in Iran with the hostages…the people dying, the demands being made by the Iranians, the hostages pent up in the the home of the Canadian ambassador. It’s a juxtaposition of the fake story that Mendez and team have created and the reality that the hostages are experiencing on the other side of the world. It’s a powerful moment in the film, and, to me, it really showed the importance of the success of this mission…failure wasn’t an option.
Argo is not thought-provoking so much as it is just a great story; it’s a dark caper (the real-life event is referred to as the “Canadian Caper”) that manages to be simultaneously intense and humorous, bringing laughs at one moment and an anxious chill up your spine at the next. Fueled by the smart script that relies more on storytelling than on action and by Alexandre Desplat’s score (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, though I’m not sure if it’s better than Williams’ score for Lincoln), Argo is one of the best films of 2012.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: R – for language and some violent images
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, here!