Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Argo Keeps You On The Edge


William Shakespeare once wrote in his play As You Like It that “all the world is a stage, and all the men and women a merely players”, although this line has been quoted to death, it feels quite fitting for the film Argo. The film is all about orchestrating an illusion, despite the fact that many doubted it would ever work. Though history has proven that sometimes it is the most outlandish ideas that make the biggest impact.

Set during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, the film documents the events that led to the extraction of six stranded Americans who found refugee in the home of a Canadian ambassador. Considering how volatile the relationship between Iran and America was at the time, there was no foreseeable way to get the six Americans out of Iran alive without jeopardizing Iran/United States relations that were already hanging by a thread. Furthermore, if it was discovered that Canada was secretly harbouring the Americans it would have huge ramifications for Canadian relations as well. Seeing as every extraction scenario that has been debated amongst the powers that be ended in likely the death of the American stowaways, expert CIA “extractor” Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the concept of making a fake movie. Mendez’s plan would have the six Americans pose as an Canadian film crew scouting possible film shoot locations in Tehran.

Enlisting the help of film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and makeup effects artist John Chambers (John Goodman), Mendez must figure out how to make this cover story believable enough to work. The three men come up with the concept for a science fiction thriller, in the vein of Star Wars, entitled “Argo”. As with most things in Hollywood, it matters not what your film is about, but how you sell it. Using the expertise and connections that both Siegel and Chambers have established over the years, they not only get storyboards created, but also hold a script reading press conference to ensure that word spreads about the film. While Hollywood was buzzing about “Argo” the question remained whether or not Mendez’s plan would work once in Tehran?


If you are familiar with the history of the 1979 hostage situation, then you will know what the outcome of the film will be. However, what makes Argo such a captivating film is how it well it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat despite already knowing the outcome. Under the skilled direction of Ben Affleck, Argo crackles at a brisk pace while keeping the tension high. Argo is the type of film that would have been dismissed as mere “Oscar bait” had it been handled by a lesser director. Though the term may have taken on a demeaning connotation over the years, Argo may finally help bring back some of its respectability.

Argo is a film that is reminiscent of the crowd pleasing adult-oriented thrillers Hollywood use to make. Films that would pull strong box-office numbers without relying on big budget special effects or franchise appeal. So it is rather fitting that most of the jokes in this film are at Hollywood’s expense. Although the humour helps to elevate the tension at certain points, Affleck is careful to take the overall material seriously. Even the film’s catchphrase, “Argo fuck yourself...”, starts off as a lark about the movie making industry, but turns into an endearing term of hope and accomplishment. Argo is a film that honours the individuals involved without ever feeling like it is preaching to the audience.

As a director Affleck has grown significantly with each film he has made. In Argo, he not only surrounds himself with a stellar cast of actors, but allows each of them their moment to shine. This is saying a lot when you have the likes of Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Zeljko Ivanek, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane and Kyle Chandler all in the same film. Despite playing the lead role in the film, Affleck never tries to upstage any of the other actors or draw attention away from the central plot. Argo is a mature and well executed thriller that is a crowd-pleaser from beginning to end. Even if you are very familiar with the events that take place in the film, Argo will still have you on the edge of your seat.

2 comments:

  1. Good review CS. It's a very good movie, no doubt about it, it's just not as perfect as I think everybody's saying it is. Still, Affleck is very good as director and I can't wait to see what he decides to touch next.

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    1. I think your reaction to the film was how I felt about The Town. I enjoyed The Town but did not love it like everyone else. Argo may not be a perfect film but it does manage to offer far more thrills than you would expect.

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