Argo: Ben Affleck’s Best Film and Oscar Card A-
“Argo,” the new sharply observed political thriller, laced with witty humor, announces the arrival of Ben Affleck as a major Hollywood player. With this third feature, Affleck is no longer a promising director but an accomplished one, in full control of his faculties.
World-premiering to rapturous reception at the Telluride Film Fest (as a sneak preview) and at the Venice Festival (in competition), “Argo” plays at the Toronto Film Fest this weekend before opening theatrically in October. Warner should expect good returns for its mid-range player, likely to get positive reviews from most critics.
Based on true events, “Argo” is a dramatic thriller that is not only set in the late 1970s, but also recalls the character-driven features of that era, considered to be one of Hollywood’s Golden Ages.
With exacting eye, and meticulous attention to detail, Affleck chronicles the risky–life-or-death–covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis. As the story unfolds, we learn of new facts and vital information¸ which have been kept in secrecy and thus unknown by the American public for decades.
Wearing comfortably multiple hats, Affleck directs and stars in “Argo,” benefiting from the generous collaboration from the liberal and politically minded producers, star George Clooney and writer-director Grant Heslov.
I was a student at Columbia and recall vividly the shocking incident and its limited (and biased) coverage by the mass media, due to many different factors. On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage.
Even more shocking and remarkable is the tale of how, in the midst of panic and chaos (to say the least), six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home, where they stayed for close to three months. For a good reason, they were fearful of their future, expecting to be discovered and executed.
Realizing that it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, Tony Mendez (well played by Affleck in a convincing period look) aCIA“exfiltration” specialist, comes up with a risky plan to get them safely out of the country. Without spoiling the suspense and fun, let’s just say that Mendez posed as a Candian movie producer scouting locations for a low-budget sci-fi flick.
At first, the plan seems so incredible, bizarre, surreal, and fantastic (in both senses of the term fantasy ), that its details suggest they were borrowed from a Hollywood epic actioner.
Affleck deserves credit for casting each and every role in the story with superlative character actors. Alan Arkin steals every scene he is in as the flashy, cynical Hollywood old-timer, who helps pull off the outlandish scheme. Equally good are Bryan Cranston (of TV’s “Breaking Bad”), as a world-weary CIA operator, and the always reliable John Goodman, as a skillful (and funny) makeup artist.
The large supporting cast includes Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Scoot McNairy, Chris Messina, Michael Parks, and Taylor Schilling.
The colorfully detailed screenplay is credited to Chris Terrio, based on Antonio J. Mendez’s “The Master in Disguise” and the Wired Magazine article, “The Great Escape” by Joshuah Bearman.
What makes “Argo” Affleck’s most accomplished and fully realized work to date is a display of a unified, personal vision (which was missing from his first movie, “Gone Baby Gone”) and a masterful technical control over every element of the production, which are even more impressive considering that this was the first Affleck picture not to be shot in his hometown, Boston.
Shot in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Langley, Virginia headqaurters of the CIA) and Istanbul, standing in for the turbulent Tehran, “Argo” boasts a compelling visual style, which serves the material most suitably without calling too much attention to itself, despite some brilliant imagery courtesy of the briliant Mexican cinematohrapher (“Brokeback Mountain”).
Technical values are first-rate down the line, from Sharon Seymour’s production design, editor William Goldenberg (“The Insider”), who cuts and intercuts between events, personas, and locations in a mode that enhances the inherently thrilling and uspenseul material.
Watching the actors’ hair, makeup and wardrobe offers an inisghtful look back on to incidents that had occurred long time ago, but have retained their political timeliness and socially relevancy. (Affleck has said: “If I’m going to ask other people to have really humiliating 1970s hair, I had to be the first one”).
It’s a pleasure to report that this fall movie season begins with a bang, first Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and now Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” Though they are very different directors, both Anderson and Affleck represent the same kind of filmic credo in making peronal autuerist works, which benefit immensely from the technical resources provided by the New New Hollywood.
If Affleck, who’s only 40, continues to develop as a filmmaker at the fast rate he has been, he will soon join the ranks of the industry’s giants, following in the footsteps of other actors who became great directors, prime among whom is vet Clint Eastwood, now 82, and still going strong.
Leave a Reply
- Behind he Candelabra: Liberace Biopic
- Hangover Part III
- Blood Ties
- Inside Llewyn Davis: Top Coens, Cannes Highlight
- Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of Plains Indian)
- Fast & Furious 6: Thrilling Joyride
- Angelina Jolie Double Mastectomy–Talk of Cannes Film Fest
- Bling Ring, The
- Before Midnight: Hawke and Delpie at Mid-Age
- Stories We Tell
- Great Gatsby: Luhrmann’s Jazzy Spectacle