Review of Argo
on 2012-10-11 14:37
Ben Affleck’s rise from “Gigli” to celebrated director is no doubt one of Hollywood’s best comeback stories, a lesson that every once in a while a great surprise still waits at the movies. The director/actor faces his toughest challenge with “Argo”, based on a true story from 1979-80 of a fake sci-fi film that saved 6 American diplomats stuck in Iran following a riot in protest of Shah Reza Pahlavi (a man responsible for terrible human rights violations) being granted U.S asylum. It’s material that Affleck handles with suspense, respect, and a winking sense of humor but it oddly enough doesn’t always seem to have care. I wanted to love this film but in the end I merely respected it.
Affleck plays exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez, called into the CIA to discuss ideas on getting these Americans, who have been hiding for 69 days and counting at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador, out of Iran but so far the best idea they’ve had is to supply them with bikes and hope they can pedal fast to the Turkish border. Tony has a better way, a brain fart that comes to him one night while watching “Planet of the Apes.” Disguise the hostages as a fake Canadian film crew scouting Iran for locations to film their next B-grade Sci-fi movie. This is an insane plan that has almost no shot of working but he gets special effects wizard John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to back him and soon it’s the best they got. Time is, of course, of the essence here and so Tony’s boss, Jack O” Donnell (Bryan Cranston), tries to keep everyone and everything on track.
All in all Affleck has done a fantastic job of detailing the dangerous powder keg of the Iranian riots on the ground, while finding old news footage that details what’s happening in Iran as well as the Anti-Iranian sentiment that this hostage crisis caused in America. The Hollywood segments are played for laughs, poking fun at the soullessness of the business. Arkin and Goodman nail down the comic relief roles perfectly. There’s also a huge emphasis on the risk that these people took, to the point where you want to tell Affleck “we get it.” What you would like to see more of is some character development. Tony and Lester bonding over being divorcees is about all you get and particularly disappointing is that screenwriter Chris Terrio hardly ever gives us any insight into the hostages or allows them any emotional resonance. So “Argo” winds up being slightly less powerful than you would like it to be but Affleck totally nails the ending, a heart-racing sequence of verifications at the airport where one wrong move at each check-point spells game over. By the time this is over, you wish the rest of the film had pulled at your heart even half as good as this scene does.