Review: Argo (TIFF 2012)
PLOT: Hot on the heels of the Iranian revolution, the American embassy in Tehran is overrun, and the staff is taken hostage. Six Americans manage to escape, and are taken in by the Canadian ambassador. Knowing their days are numbered, the American government turns to CIA ex-filtration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) who hatches a plan where he'll pretend the Americans are really a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a STAR WARS-knockoff called “Argo”. Amazingly based on a true story.
REVIEW: ARGO is the kind of movie that leaves you thinking, “gee, why don't they make more movies like this?” It's a fascinating fact-based thriller (with some artistic licence taken), which features plenty of thrills, a superb cast, and solid entertainment value. Basically, it's a seventies film (driven home by the period Warner Bros., logo, which was also on MAGIC MIKE, and should seriously be their new logo for anything highbrow).
Who would have thought ten years ago that after a few years off, Ben Affleck would reemerge as one of the very best directors currently working in Hollywood. With ARGO, he's three for three (GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN are his other two films), and like THE TOWN, he once again proves that nobody is able to pull out a good Ben Affleck performance like Affleck himself.
Tony Mendez is the ideal role for the maturing Affleck, with it being a very George Clooney style role- with him playing Mendez as a bit burnt out, but still driven by a sense of compassion and responsibility. The first half of the film, featuring his attempts to navigate Hollywood with the help of Alan Arkin as a veteran producer who helps give his Argo cover some legitimacy- is probably the most fun. Arkin seems to be having a ball, especially when he gets to play opposite John Goodman as real-life make-up artist John Chambers- famous for creating the prosthetic makeup of the PLANET OF THE APES films. It appears that Chambers also freelanced for the CIA, and Goodman steals every scene he's in.
Meanwhile Mendez also has to navigate the hierarchy of the CIA (painted as only slightly less ludicrous than Hollywood), with his superior, played by the great Bryan Cranston, warning him early on that his section chiefs are like “the two old fucks from The Muppets.” Affleck takes a backseat throughout this whole section, giving his cast a chance to shine. He moves to the forefront in the tense second half of the film, where he gets to Tehran and has to rally the hostages- all of whom are also well cast with character actors like Tate Donovan, Christopher Denham, Clea Duvall, Rory Cochrane, Kerry Bishe and Scoot McNairy.
It's here that the thriller aspect really takes hold, and it's incredible in that you'll notice in the thirty-plus years since the events of ARGO, things still haven't improved between the Middle East and the West, making this a relevant, but also balanced film.
I'd wager that ARGO is yet another TIFF film that's bound to be a major player at the Oscars, and also one that could be a real blockbuster, as it's the kind of film literally any audience can enjoy. It has something for everyone, and it's the kind of film Hollywood should make more.