Saturday, October 13, 2012

Argo: If it didn't actually happen, it would be the laughingstock of cinema

....But it did happen and Argo turns out to be one of the best movies of the year. Once again showcasing Ben Affleck's talents as a director. He doesn't have a flashy directorial style but his style also isn't as reserved as fellow actor/director George Clooney. But what both men have in common is their innate tendency to be able to craft relentlessly entertaining and interesting films. Argo, though, easily tops anything George Clooney has directed and is easily Ben Affleck's best movie. He already showcased a certain aura of confidence with The Town, but his treatment and accurate, respectful portrayal of history in Argo is what makes the film tower ahead of his previous film. More than that, he's still able to build on what he started with The Town: the escalating tensity, the smoothly cut yet fast-paced editing in both the beginning and end of the film... Ben Affleck manages to get just about everything right.

It starts in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. Militants take over the US Embassy and hold 52 Americans hostage, but six other Americans manage to escape and hide in the Canadian embassy. US Central Intelligence along with the State Department are fumbling, trying to come up with ways to get those six Americans out of there. That's where Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes in.

Tony ultimately comes up with a plan that's so elaborate and far-fetched and nobody in either the CIA or State Department are particularly thrilled about it, but nevertheless, he gets the go ahead. The plan is to pretend to be a fake film production company making a fake film, scouting locations in Iran. The film is called "Argo." To make it feel as real as possible, Mendez must fly over to Los Angeles and with the help of friend John Chambers (John Goodman), he's able to find a producer (Alan Arkin) to help come up with storyboards, find a script, and take out a full page ad in Variety for this fake film. They're going to pretend the six Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy are members of the film crew, and are Canadian.

It's a ridiculous idea, of course, and when they manage to pull this operation off, they keep this information classified for 18 years. Watching Tony Mendez fly into Iran and get these Americans out of Iran whilst pretending to be a film crew is immensely thrilling to watch, but at the same time, you're sitting there shaking your head because all of it is so hard to believe... but it happened. Dammit, it happened.

Ben Affleck made a wise choice in a number of different areas here. First, with the cast, he loads this film with talent in front of the screen: Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler... to name a few. He also picks a great DoP in Rodrigo Prieto who has, so far, worked on all of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's films. With his help, Ben Affleck is able to create a very authentic "you are there" look which is also helped with the excellent late '70s era costume and production design. As they show during the credits, many of the shots and images in the film are taken right from photographs of the scene in Tehran, Iran back in 1979/80.

In numerous ways, Argo is a fantastic film. Finely crafted, always intense, and ultimately, it's a crowd-pleaser. Ben Affleck makes no attempt to hide his affinity for the look and craft of the best '70s films that were made in America. Add to that a great crew and a solid cast firing on all cylinders and, indeed, you have yourself one of the best films of the year. Who would've thought we would look at Ben Affleck to be among one of our finest American filmmakers. Argo winds up being his finest achievement so far.

Grade: A

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