It’s an absolute marvel how Ben Affleck has managed to turn his career around in recent years. After being the laughingstock of the film community for a while, Affleck reestablished himself as a great talent through his directorial outings in “Gone Baby, Gone” and “The Town.” In “Argo,” Affleck not only proves that he’s a gifted filmmaker, but one of the most intelligent creative minds of this generation.
Affleck’s latest film is spellbinding entertainment, depicting one of the most engrossing and remotely unknown true stories ever to meet the silver screen.
“Argo” opens with the brutally realistic atmosphere of a documentary as a storm of Islamist students invade the American Embassy in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. Six American diplomats manage to escape and eventually seek refuse in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, played by Victor Garber. The Government of Canada joins forces with the C.I.A. to help return the six diplomats home. Enter Tony Mendez, an agent in charge of providing cover stories for the six Americans.
Affleck also plays Mendez, who gets an idea one night while watching a “Planet of the Apes” movie on television. To rescue the diplomats, the C.I.A. will disguise them as Canadian filmmakers scouting Tehran for screening locations. Mendez enlists the help of Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers, portrayed by John Goodman, to make the fake movie seem as legitimate as possible. A veteran Hollywood Producer named Lester Siegel, played by a hilarious Alan Arkin, also joins forces with Mendez to get the word out about the movie. They settle on a script titled “Argo,” one of those rip-offs of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” that were especially common in this era. Assisting these three men on the national security front is Bryan Cranston in the film’s best performance as Jack O’Donnell, a superior C.I.A. agent.
When Mendez presents his plan to the six diplomats, one of them immediately writes it off as preposterous. This man obviously had every right to be skeptic of Mendez’s risky tactics. A plan this far-fetched would lead some people to believe that “Argo” is a pure work of fiction poised for a political satire. Watching the film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of “To Be or Not to Be,” the 1942 comedy about a theater troupe trying to escape Nazi-occupied Warsaw by using their acting abilities. Audiences will be astonished to learn that screenwriter Chris Terrio based his riveting screenplay on actual events, using an article by Joshuah Bearman and an autobiography by Mendez as a resource. The notion that a caper such as this really took place only makes “Argo” more beguiling and exciting as we observe Mendez’s unbelievable plot unfold. Where the monotonous “Taken 2” had next to no genuinely intense moments, “Argo” is a thriller that knows how to keep its audience invested and satisfied.
In addition to being one of the most ardent and powerful political thrillers of recent years, “Argo” is also an extremely passionate picture about the influence of film. So often movies are observed merely as mindless escapism intended to kill a couple hours. Rarely do we consider how seeing a movie can affect the way we think, whether you’re in a creative field or a position of government. “Argo” reminds people of the unlikely impact film can have on the world. Affleck demonstrates more than ever that he holds a deep respect for the art and power of movies, most notably through the courteous final shots. By not seeing “Argo,” you’d be depriving yourself of an exhilarating and astonishing cinematic experience. This is a textbook example of triumphant filmmaking that will make you fall in love with the medium all over again.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com
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