“Argo” Provides Unfathomably Tense Storytelling

The premise of Argo sounds as absurd to audiences as it does to the characters: the CIA must team up with Hollywood to produce a fake movie in order to liberate U.S Embassy employees hiding in Iran. No one believes they can pull it off, and watching them try is half the fun of the movie.

Ben Affleck’s third feature film finally takes him away from Boston and brings him to 1970s Washington D.C., LA, and Iran. Once again he proves that he’s a skilled director and actor (see also: The Town). He plays CIA Agent Tony Mendez, the man who comes up with the harebrained scheme (thanks to his sci-fi addicted son). His mission takes him to Hollywood where he teams up with Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and famed director Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to produce the movie Argo, a Star Wars knockoff they set in the Middle East.

As humorous as some of these plot points sound, the film is very serious. A historical prologue provides political context for the state of Iran. Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio quickly set up tension as the riotous Iranian protesters invade the U.S. Embassy to take hostages. Six employees escape and take refuge at the Canadian Embassy. They, Affleck and Terrio, use the Hollywood scenes to relieve some of the tension without losing the mood of the film (we are constantly reminded of Iran through news clips that are interspersed throughout this segment). But, when Mendez arrives in Iran to execute the mission, the tension returns in full force—and doesn’t let up until the very end (providing a very nail-biting climactic sequence).

Of course, the tension wouldn’t be nearly as palpable if not for the great cast that Affleck has put together. Along with memorable roles by Affleck, Goodman, and Arkin, there is a bevy of TV actors including Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston; AHS: Asylum’s Clea DuVall, Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler; and nearly every man who’s been on Damages in the last two years (including aforementioned Goodman): Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Chris Messina, and Zeljko Ivanek. Everyone does justice to their roles, despite the distractingly clichéd costumes and makeup that inevitably accompanies a 1970s-set film.

Many critics have already called the film the best of the year. While I wouldn’t completely disagree, I did feel that most of the film’s elements and progression were predictable. That being said, Argo is one of the most compelling films of the year and will definitely be making its rounds on the awards circuit this winter.

 

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3 Comments

  1. It’s a good movie, but just not a great one in my opinion. I didn’t feel the ever-loving sense of tension going on with the last-act of this movie, but I still think Affleck handled it well. Good review.

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