I should first note that any movie that highlights Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and The Rolling Stones’ “Little T&A” is bound to please me to a certain degree, no matter the acting or subject matter (Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Way” wasn’t too shabby either). That “Argo” hits all the marks in a deftly executed historical thriller is more than just icing on the cake; it’s as close to perfection for the genre as any I’ve seen, and for me it’s the best film since 2007's “Michael Clayton.”
“Argo” tells the true story of six would-be American hostages who instead flee to the Canadian embassy. How to get them out is the question, and CIA agent Ben Affleck has a plan: to pose with the six as Canadian film-makers scouting out locations in Iran for a science fiction movie called “Argo.” Sound crazy? It did to me, and still does.
I was old enough to be very aware of the hostage crisis back in 1979, and I remember the blindfolded Americans being paraded through the streets of Tehran. Affleck, both an understated lead and a capable director in this feature, manages to shift between real footage and fictionalized scenes seamlessly, taking viewers back to that time period in a flash. I even had a touch of nostalgia watching younger versions of Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel and Walter Cronkite grace the newscasts of yesteryear.
The opening scenes, in which the mobs of protestors storm the embassy, are chilling, especially in light of the Americans who lost their lives in Libya last month. Sometimes history repeats itself. Affleck does a good job of offering a quick tutorial for the uninformed at the film’s opening, summarizing the hostage crisis and what led to it (what led to it? The actions of the U.S. Government twenty-five years prior. History doesn’t just happen, folks. History results from unintended consequences.).
Affleck pulls every suspense string he can clutch near the film’s conclusion, and although I knew exactly what he was doing and that I was being manipulated, I didn’t particularly care. I just know I would never have been able to pull off the ruse of pretending to be a filmmaker while gunmen questioned me. I was nervous enough as a viewer. I would also like to read about actual events to see how much the screenplay was doctored up for the benefit of the film. If things indeed happened as Argo depicts, then I think I can sum up my reaction in two words: Holy Crap!
Ben Affleck has followed the lead of co-producer George Clooney in smartly handling his Hollywood career, wisely taking on smaller projects that are perhaps a bit under the radar, but are sharp films that please critics and cult-audiences alike. Take Clooney’s “Good Night and Good Luck,” a masterfully done historical thriller, multiply the intensity ten-fold, subtract the black and white, and you get “Argo,” including the cigarette smoke, this time inhaled by guys with cheesy mustaches instead of the suave look of the 50s.
John Goodman is also doing a nice job of managing his career, and after his mostly silent performance in “The Artist,” it’s great to see him and hear him in action, along with Alan Arkin, as Hollywood filmmakers. There are a dozen other faces you’ll recognize, and all were wise to take bit roles in what is bound to be an Oscar contender.
Yes, you heard me right.
Then again, “Michael Clayton” didn’t win best picture, and last year Roman Polanski’s “Ghost Writer” didn’t even get nominated. So what the hell do I know?
While you're here, check out my friend Eric's blog on movies that ended up being better than the books that inspired them.