REVIEW: ‘Argo’ is among the year’s finest films
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 12:03
Say what you will about Ben Affleck’s acting abilities or political opinions: The man can write and direct with the very best of them. He doesn’t resort to superfluous and gaudy filming techniques and he wisely allows the material onscreen to speak for itself. Crafted with good sensibilities in drama and pacing, “Argo” recently took home the coveted best picture Oscar along with best editing and writing.
So does “Argo” deserve the accolades it has been receiving? Oh yes. Without question. I actually felt, for the first time in a few years, the Academy has finally gotten it right with the top award. It gives me hope yet they will continue to make smart decisions and not cave in to hype.
The year is 1979. Turmoil and repeated political struggles have plagued Iran and its international significance. The unpopular and recently deposed Shah has been granted asylum in the United States for treatment of his severe health problems. This sparks the Iranian hostage crisis, an event where dozens of angry citizens, who were in favor of the Iranian Revolution, stormed the U.S. Embassy at Tehran and detained hundreds of innocent civilians.
Unbeknownst to the revolutionaries, six Americans escape the embassy and take shelter in the Canadian ambassador’s home. With no clear escape route or hope for freedom, all seems lost for these individuals until the CIA becomes aware of their dilemma.
Exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, furiously searches for a solution to bring these people home. He then conceives an idea along with his supervisor Jack O’Donnell, played by Bryan Cranston, of faking Canadian film production identities for the escaped Americans after acquiring a science-fiction script called “Argo.”
The two get into contact with makeup artist John Chambers, played by John Goodman, and eventually link up with director Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, to build the production crew cover. Tony then meets up with the escaped Americans in Tehran and orders them to learn their new identities back to front in order to have a chance to make it through the heavily guarded airport.
Lester Siegel wryly sums it up best at one point in the film: “We did suicide missions in the Army that had better odds than this.”
One of many aspects “Argo” deserves high praise for is the spellbinding and smart screenplay by Chris Terrio. Some of the dialogue for these characters, particularly for Goodman and Arkin’s characters, had me laughing heartily. The script also sold the seriousness of the situation these characters are in: If they don’t execute the plan to perfection, innocent people would lose their lives to bloodthirsty revolutionaries. When a script can spur as much fun and suspense the way it does here, you’re in good hands as an audience member.
Yet this wonderful screenplay wouldn’t amount to much if it didn’t have the dramatic talent to complement it. The typically flat and uninspired performance Affleck usually gives is nowhere to be found in “Argo.” He plays a troubled family man and injects real soul and angst into the role, providing palpability he usually lacks. He interacts with his son over the phone and tries to be a good parent regardless of the strain his marriage has endured, and that’s actually quite refreshing to see.
Arkin and Goodman balance out some of the pessimism with lively and engaging portrayals of Hollywood big-shots. Both men give off jaded, cynical and blunt personas that showcase just how often they have worked on awful movie productions.
Ben Affleck should be proud of what he has accomplished with “Argo.” He delivers a solid performance in conjunction with the rest of the cast and he tells a complex and riveting story to boot. Plus, he does all of this without sliding toward pretentiousness or character cliches. Nicely done.
This film earned its best picture Oscar easily and it comes highly recommended. Yes, even for the Affleck haters.
– Sam McConkie is a senior in the technical and professional writing program at USU. He is a keen writer and has been a dedicated gamer for years. Sam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.