Argo (2012)

22 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Argo” bears the “based-on-a-true-story” label, and it’s also one of those movies that not only feature that label, but also make you forget about that until the obligatory, informative captions appear before the end credits roll. But when you think about it, this is also one of those movies, which feature that label, where the story is so full of intrigue that you start to wonder if Hollywood writers could get that creative. Either way you think about it, “Argo” is a wonderfully-made film that is one of the best of 2012.

“Argo” is based on the Canadian Caper that occurred during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980. While it is based on true events, some parts are exaggerated for a more cinematic feel, working to its advantage and providing more tension. The source for this material is Joshuah Bearman’s “Wired” article, “Escape from Tehran: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran,” about CIA specialist/”extractor” Tony Mendez’s involvement in the rescue of six US diplomats, with help from Canadian government.

52 Americans were held hostage by Islamic militants who took over the US embassy in Tehran. Six others escaped and hid in the residence of the Canadian ambassador, for almost three months. The CIA helps in the decision to attempt a rescue mission and are under pressure because time may be running out. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is called in by CIA director Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) to hatch a plan to get the six people out. What they need is a reason for Americans to be wandering the streets of Tehran during this political crisis. But then, Mendez comes up with a preposterous yet possible scheme that just might work. The plan is to create a fake production crew for a Canadian sci-fi adventure called “Argo.” Mendez will hire a make-up artist—John Chambers (John Goodman)—and a producer—Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin)—and create a cover story for the six Americans. Mendez will go to Tehran and train them to masquerade as the film’s crew members, just scouting for locations in Iran, so that hopefully they can pass through airport security and board a flight back home. The plan seems so crazy, it just might work.

Ben Affleck stars in “Argo” and also directs it. While Affleck is a solid actor when he needs to be (which is the case here), he’s a damn good director. Following harrowing thrillers “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” Affleck brings about his most accomplished work in “Argo.” The choices he makes in production works to the film’s advantage, including actually using film to give “Argo” a sense that is was shot in the 1970s. (Speaking of which, the vintage Warner Bros. logo even starts the film.) The recreation of many events this is based upon is excellent, with great location work and effective execution. The opening sequence, in which the US Embassy is taken over by militants, is especially compelling.

The pacing is just right, making the film’s two-hour running time go by smoothly without getting tiresome. The whole final act is the final plan that leads to the moments of truth. This is when Mendez has to lead the six, who have to prove themselves of their fake identities so they can get past airport security. It’s not that easy and so they just have to continue harder to play along without giving themselves away. This sequence is intersected with scenes that feature someone finally identifying them and having to make his way to the airport in order to stop them. So, what we have is a race against time that is both suspenseful and effective. It’s an excellent sequence that keeps you on edge until the final outcome.

“Argo” also has its comic moments. Even in that tense final sequence, there’s an enchanting scene in which the “fake” director shows off the “Argo” storyboards to the authorities, who do their best to hide their interest as movie buffs. And when they’re allowed to keep the storyboards, they pass them around as if they got an autographed picture of Orson Welles.

Most of the laughs come from Alan Arkin and John Goodman. These two are so great at displaying comic timing, and deliver the funniest lines in the movie, that you wonder if they could ever spin off into a TV sitcom. There’s a running phrase delivered by Arkin that has fun with the “f” word, and thus having fun with the R rating. But my favorite line, from Arkin, is “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.”

The fake “Argo” project itself is pretty funny as well—a clever send-up to those cheesy sci-fi B-movies that pokes fun at “Star Wars” elements. It may be fake, but it’s somewhat fascinating. And the Affleck film “Argo” is a triumph that deserves the Oscar buzz it’s been getting at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s greatly executed, well-acted, suspenseful, funny, and just all-around fantastic.

One Response to “Argo (2012)”


  1. My Next Top 150 Favorite Movies | Smith's Verdict - June 28, 2018

    […] Here’s one that was definitely recognized by the Oscars (except Best Director—what the hell?). And for good reason—it’s really good! It’s executed perfectly, capturing the essence of the late 1970s, and fizzes with tension. It plays almost exactly like a thriller from the ‘70s, showing that director/actor Ben Affleck truly has affection for the genre, the era, and just filmmaking in general. It’s intriguing to watch and takes me on an intense journey each time I see it. “Argo f*** yourself!” Review: […]

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