Rating – 5 stars
Award season brings around plenty of films that have “desperate for an Oscar” stamped across their foreheads. Ben Affleck, who directed and stars in his newest film, Argo, gracefully avoids falling into this trap. Based on a true story, Argo takes thrilling drama and combines it with sharp humor to produce a film that demands Oscar nominations, including strong cases for both Best Director and Best Picture.
Jason Buchanan of TV Guide’s Movie Guide writes, “If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from director Ben Affleck’s relentlessly tense, painstakingly detailed Argo, it’s that we should consider the possibility that our history has been manipulated more than many of us would care to admit.” The film is set in late 1979, during the changeover of power from the Shah to the Ayatollah in Iran. This change brought about riots that eventually overtook the American embassy in Tehran, and we generically follow the developing hostage situation and what the United States seems to be doing about it.
The film focuses in on Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, a CIA agent who specializes in extraction of people from dangerous situations. In this case, he has to find a way to rescue six Americans who fled the embassy when it was first under attack and took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Mendez hatches a plan to create a fake movie, fly into Tehran as a Canadian film producer and fly out as a Canadian film crew who were scouting sites for their film. He employs the help of Hollywood producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, and Oscar-winning make-up artist John Chambers, played by John Goodman, as they publicize their film and create their fake production agency in an effort to give the film legitimate credibility.
Affleck is phenomenal as the lead dramatic role, and Arkin and Goodman are at their best as the hilarious Hollywood duo. Bryan Cranston provides the bridge between the intensity of Tehran and the humor of Hollywood as Jack O’Donnell, the CIA agent overseeing Mendez’s operation. All four of these actors have each put their best foot forward, combined with Affleck’s exceptional showcase of his behind-the-camera abilities; Argo keeps its audience on the edge of their seats until the very last scene and allows them to leave feeling uplifted and proud to be American. Stephen Witty of the Newark Star-Ledger writes, “If nothing else, it proves that every so often, the CIA can pull something off—and that yes, Canadians are just about the nicest people on the planet.”