Written by J.T. Johnson
When actor Clint Eastwood wanted more control over his film projects, he simply took what he had learned in the business and quickly became a legendary film director. Eastwood even moved on to directing films that didn’t feature him, but still interested him enough to be involved with the project. This seems to be the path that actor/director Ben Affleck has taken and so far, he is doing a fantastic job.
Affleck proved with “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” that he was a good filmmaker in addition to being a good actor. With “Argo”, Affleck attempts to prove that even if the story is a complex period piece, he can still hold his own. Not only is the film set during another point in time, it also happens to based on one of America’s toughest crises during the 1970s.
The movie is set during the 444 days of the Iranian Hostage Crisis that took place between 1979 and 1981. More to the point, the film tells the story about six of the embassy workers eluding capture and taking cover in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). The CIA knows that the six Americans will not remain safe forever and that they must devise a plan to get the hostages out.
While there are several proposals being presented, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) brings in Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to help come up with a plan. While watching “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” on TV one night, Tony decides that the best way to get the hostages out is for them to pose as a Canadian film crew that is location scouting for a fake movie called “Argo”. To meet this end, they recruit top Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to help set up the cover.
From here, the film becomes a tense race against time to rescue Americans that the Iranians know escaped from the embassy. The idea of the CIA green lighting a fake movie in order to save hostages already sounds like an idea made for Hollywood. This is why it’s even more surprising to know that it is a true story of an operation that remained secret until President Clinton declassified the mission in ’96.
The story’s greatest asset is that Affleck plays it straight and down to the last detail. He knows he doesn’t need to hype up the action or add anymore tension than what is already there in the script. The film is set in the ‘70s and it feels as though the film itself was made during that time, even including the old Warner Bros. logo to open the film.
Affleck also effectively flexes his acting muscle and turns in an award-winning performance. Tony is not the screaming, running agent seen in fictional Hollywood action films. Affleck instinctively knows that this character needs to stay calm for the safety of both the American escapees and the agent himself.
Director Affleck has also surrounded himself with a stellar supporting cast. Goodman turns in another great yet subtle performance as Chambers while Arkin is amazing and funny as the foul-mouthed and jaded Siegel. Finally, Cranston rounds out the cast as Tony’s supportive superior O’Donnell who can easily see how the operation could fall apart at any moment.
Historical dramas are not liked by mass audiences and this film may not have a huge impact on the box office. Still, the true winner here is Affleck who once again proves why he is one of Hollywood’s acclaimed directors with a keen eye for historical accuracy and a good, old fashioned narrative. The result is one of the best films of 2012.