As I mentioned in an earlier post, Argo has been on my radar for a while. However, I didn’t get to see it in the theater immediately; I didn’t sit down to watch the film until three weeks after it was released, which for me is a lifetime. I tend to pounce on movies pretty quickly – I am, after all, a frequent patron of the midnight movie screenings – but my expectation for Argo was such that I wanted to wait until I would be in the mood to see the film. I didn’t want to be too tired or try to squeeze the film into my otherwise busy schedule. This was a film I was hoping I would enjoy immensely and I choose to prolong the anticipation until I was ready. Yes – I’m nuts.
I did briefly worry that I had built the movie up too much in my head and that I had created such unrealistic expectations for the film that it would be impossible for Argo to live up to the hype (à la Homeland). I tend to do this. Ask any of my ex-boyfriends.
But Argo more than delivered; it actually exceeded my lofty hopes. This was a thrilling and extremely well executed movie. I tip my cap to Ben Affleck who is now indisputably a great director. One good movie could be a fluke, two can be an aberration, but three (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo) is a trend. So glad to see him doing well. I always knew he had it in him.
Argo is based on real life events centered on the Iranian hostage crisis of the 1970s. When Iranians took over the American Embassy in Tehran, six staff members were able to escape and took refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. With most of Iran looking for them, they were unable to leave the country on their own. CIA specialist Tony Mendez hatches a plan to get them out – a fake cover story about a science fiction film (Argo) that is scouting for locations. The hostages will pose as members of his Canadian film crew, because everyone loves the Canadians (True story – when traveling in Eastern Europe after 9/11, we were encouraged to say we were Canadian rather than American).
What is a testament to this film and the actors in it is that even though I knew the outcome of the rescue mission, I was still on the edge of my seat throughout the film. I was legitimately anxious, concerned about the welfare of these characters despite the fact that I knew their fate. Affleck’s direction and the actors’ universally outstanding performances drew me in and created real tension and investment, regardless of the end technically being “spoiled.” That takes some talent. I was completely riveted during Argo; I didn’t look at my watch once during the film, which is rare for me.
I can’t say enough about the fabulous performances in this film. Everyone involved did a tremendous job. Affleck has also matured into a solid actor and serves as the anchor of the movie. The actors playing the hostages all convey the weariness and terror of what it must have been like to be a citizen behind enemy lines. The hostages weren’t spies or high level employees and the film demonstrates the pressure that they were under in being asked to assume a different identity. One mistake and they could all be killed.
The supporting cast also featured some pretty big names – Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) has a minor role as Mendez’s supervisor and John Goodman and Alan Arkin are wonderful as the Hollywood people in on the cover story. Seriously – every movie should have John Goodman and Alan Arkin in it. They make everything better.
Some other thoughts:
- Coach Taylor! Kyle Chandler has a very minor role as Carter’s Chief of Staff, but a movie automatically gets bumped up a letter grade in my book if he appears in it. And yes, I still have to watch season five of Friday Night Lights. Talk about prolonging the anticipation.
- Yes – one of the hostages is indeed played by Tate Donovan, who has been in a ton of things but will always be Jimmy from The O.C. to me. It killed me that he was playing the “elder statesman” of the group; we’re all getting old.
- I love the 70s look of the film, especially the opening credits. I have a weird obsession with the 70s; I do ridiculously well on 70s music on SongPop, considering I was only 3 at the end of the decade.
- Affleck isn’t completely without vanity – there is a shot of him taking his shirt off that is probably unnecessary (though I’m not really objecting).
- Knowing Affleck’s history of problems with alcohol, it was weird to see his character with an adult beverage in his hand a few times throughout the film. Obviously, I know he is acting, but it still felt a little off to me.
- At the end of the film, they showed photos of the real people that inspired the story and it was pretty amazing how closely many of the actors resembled their counterparts. The biggest exception was Affleck, who looks nothing like the actual Mendez. But many of the others were spot on. Good work by the casting director and costume department.
- It’s such a rare thing for Zeljko Ivanek to play a good guy – he’s so good at being the villain – that I had to remind myself that he wasn’t a mole in the government trying to bring down the whole operation. This may also be a side effect of too much Homeland in a short amount of time.
- From what we heard of the table read of Argo, that screenplay sounded pretty dreadful.
- Even though I know the general history of the region, I appreciated the brief history lesson at the beginning of the film to help put things in the proper context. Plus history is fun.
I really cannot recommend Argo highly enough. It’s just superb all the way around and I have no doubt that it will be in the mix when Best Picture nominations roll out next year. This is a movie that excels without special effects or a twist ending. Argo is just a good old fashioned drama/thriller that relies on excellent writing, acting and directing for its storytelling. I wish that they made more of these types of movies and I look forward to Affleck’s next turn behind the camera.