Ben Affleck’s Argo tells a sort-of true story about the very real story in which a sole member of the CIA (one evidently equipped with very big balls) attempted to retrieve six American diplomats out of Iran during the country’s hostage crisis of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s.
This is a rather plot-heavy movie, so before I dive into how it all went down, let me throw you a few hyperbolic messages of praise. Argo is an impossibly tense, superbly acted, wonderfully entertaining political thriller. In typical George Clooney fashion (he acts as a producer here), the film is also a worthy throwback to the best of ‘70s American cinema. The 1970s brought with it the finest crop of domestic films this country has ever seen in one single decade. So, to warrant legimate throwback praise, your film must really be doing something right. Which Argo does. By a long shot.
To do this, Mendez cooks up a ridiculous plan to create a fake, big budget B-movie sci-fi flick, enter Iran under the guise of the film’s producer, and leave with his six scouting “crew” members. The idea is consistently and refreshingly hailed as a bad one, but, as Mendez’s boss (played by Bryan Cranston) says at one point: “It’s the best worst plan we have.”
I’m purposefully leaving out much of the plot here, but in knowing that that is just the basics, it’s obvious that this story has a movie treatment written all over it. Point in fact, I haven’t a clue why Argo (which gets its name from the “fake” movie Mendez was pitching) hasn’t been made before. But under the terse, confident direction of Affleck, I’m certainly glad it hasn’t.
Everyone in Affleck’s packed cast delivers and then some. Beginning with the man himself, I’m hard pressed to think of a better Affleck performance than his Tony Mendez. Affleck has a problem as an actor, and it is his scream. He can never fully hit that level of dramatic emotion that directors so often implore him to attempt. His even-tempered Mendez is a perfect role for him.
Same for Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who bring an appropriate amount of Hollywood smut to their respective characters. The (many) government goons are played by some of our best working actors, and played well. There’s Kyle Chandler as the White House Chief of Staff (side note: how cool is it to hear Coach Taylor say “fuck”?), Chris Messina, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton, Philip Baker Hall, and so on. And as for the hostages, Tate Donovan (who is humorously tasked with being Argo’s fake director), and Kerry Bishé (a student of Edward Burns' micro budget school of cinema) stole it for me, but really, everyone who has face time in this flick does the film justice.
Argo is that rare film in which, despite the fact that much more is said than done (meaning, there are far more war room discussions than explosions here), the movie does not once, for a second, become uninteresting. It keeps moving and evolving and increasing its intelligence. It is, simply put, one of the finest recent political thrillers I can recall.
Sure, the film is getting some flak for not being entirely accurate to the story, but I think that as years go on, more and more people are taking that “Based on a True Story” title card a little too seriously. It’s silly to assume that any narrative movie is 100 percent rooted in truth. Hell, most documentaries (discreetly) implore certain levels of artifice to make their tales interesting. That is, after all, part of the wonder of the magical world of films. A-