Review - Argo

Argo (2012), R, 120 minutes - I know that I begin quite a few of my reviews with a statement about how much I was anticipating the film. I’d love to tell you that I’m not going to do that this time around, but that would be a lie. Not only does Argo have an amazing and intriguing story on which it is based, but it also marks the third directorial outing from Ben Affleck. When I first saw the trailer for Argo, I thought to myself that it was a film that needed to be seen. When I realized that it was directed by Affleck, in my mind it became a can’t miss based on my enjoyment of his previous directorial efforts Gone Baby Gone and The Town.  So yeah, I was quite looking forward to Argo.  (Side note: Gone Baby Gone predates this blog, but my review has been re-posted below.  My review for The Town can be seen here.)

Argo is based on actual events surrounding the 1980 joint CIA/Canadian exfiltration of six American diplomatic personnel from the Canadian Ambassador’s home in revolutionary Iran. The personnel narrowly escaped the American Embassy when it was taken over by revolutionaries and were given refuge by the Ambassador. The CIA, with Canada’s help, launched a plan in which the CIA’s top exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) traveled to Iran under the guise of leading a movie production unit scouting locations for a sci-fi/fantasy film titled Argo. Once in Iran, he planned to tutor the American Embassy escapees on the details of their Canadian movie production cover identities, then fly them all home to safety at the ‘conclusion’ of their scouting visit. If you think that sounds completely far-fetched, you’d be right. But the thing to remember is that this isn’t some crazy Hollywood script, it actually happened. The level of detail poured into the plan on the truncated schedule they had to put it together is unbelievable. I have read and heard in various places that liberties were taken with some events for dramatic effect and pacing purposes, but the end result is relatively faithful to the information available to the public (the case was declassified in 1997).

The cast in Argo is amazing. Affleck leads/directs and is joined by Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Bob Gunton, and Kyle Chandler as well as lesser known but recognizable Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishe, Zeljko Ivanek, and Titus Welliver. In my opinion, there’s not a weak performance in the bunch, but Arkin and Goodman really stand out with their performances as film producer Lester Siegel and makeup artist John Chambers respectively. The fact that these men were able to put together a shell of an actual film production and keep the secret that it was an actual CIA op in the years after in unbelievable.

The movie runs for two hours but is very well paced. At no time does it feel like it plays for as long as it does. Affleck does an excellent job of taking us through the entire sequence of events from the siege of the American Embassy, to the brainstorming of exfiltration plans, to the Hollywood consulting, to the execution of the plan, and the problems they incurred, not to mention the lengths the Iranians went to in order to recover destroyed intel from the embassy. It is a very suspenseful film and every aspect about the story it tells is utterly fascinating.

Say what you will about Affleck’s earlier career as an actor, but he has proven to have an excellent touch from behind the camera. This time around, he expands his horizons and shows that he can handle a story that takes place outside of the Boston area. He does so while showcasing his skill for telling a suspenseful and emotional tale as he did previously with Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

It has been a crazy week at work which has delayed the posting of my review, but in the four days that I’ve had to think back on it, I believe that Argo is my favorite movie of 2012 so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if Argo receives plenty of awards chatter, it would be well deserved. I highly recommend checking it out if you have the opportunity. It’s an extremely well made film and shines a light on an amazing event in history. I’d love to give it another viewing in the theater if I have the chance, and I will certainly be adding it to the movie library when it is released on blu-ray.






***BONUS***

Archive Review - Gone Baby Gone (originally posted on myspace on October 21, 2007)

Gone Baby Gone (R), 2007, 114 minutes - Ben Affleck my take more than his fair share of crap for quite a few sub-par movies since bursting onto the film scene along with Matt Damon when they wrote Good Will Hunting, but let me tell you, he makes a pretty good leap into running things behind the camera with his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone.

Affleck stays 'at home' for his first turn behind the lense as he adapts a Dennis Lehane novel (author of Mystic River) about the kidnapping of a young girl and the ensuing search in Boston. Casting Hollywood mainstays like Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris doesn't hurt either. His brother (Casey Affleck) stars as Patrick Kenzie, a private investigator and acquantance of the kidnapped girl's mother, who is hired by the girl's aunt to help with the investigation. The family figures that Patrick may be able to gather information from people in the neighborhood that the police would not be able to obtain from the tight lipped community known for protecting their own no matter what side of the law they fall on.

This is a well done mystery/thriller that takes 2 or 3 turns by the time it's done, each time causing you to look at the characters involved in a different light. There is a ton of explicit language (which starts about 2 minutes into the movie) but if you can get by that you will see quite a good flick.

**** stars - Ben Affleck's contributions to good (or at least decent) films (any Kevin Smith flick sans Jersey Girl, Hollywoodland, Smokin' Aces, Pearl Harbor) are far outweighed by the duds (Reindeer Games, Gigli, Paycheck) and his personal life , but hopefully he can build on the potential he shows with this film as a director to gain some positive recognition for the first time in quite a while. And remember, no matter what happens 'Affleck was THE BOMB in Phantoms!' so he's got that going for him.

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