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#689 October 12, 2012
M O V I E S
Argo (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| Book on CD! Argo dares to be at once a historical drama, Hollywood satire, and straight-up suspense thriller, and not only succeeds at all but then adds up to even more. Director/star Ben Affleck hits the target(s) in slick, efficient fashion right from the jump with the opening sequence. A familiar, voiceover-driven backstory montage sets up the circumstances leading up to the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, peppered with shots of movie storyboards, making for a particularly sly early introduction to the main thrust of the plot: the CIA's unlikely rather outlandish plan to rescue a group of escaped American embassy workers--sneak them out of the hostile territory under the pretense of being a Canadian film crew scouting for a sci-fi film shoot.
Much like the mission itself, so many disparate elements and compounding challenges are at play here: an unusual true story within the larger framework of a well-remembered episode in modern world history; built-in fodder for showbiz industry ribbing; and with its wide-ranging scope, an accordingly large canvas of characters. But Affleck pulls it all off with ease and élan, blessed with an intelligent and richly detailed screenplay by Chris Terrio that deftly weaves fact and fun with fleshed out characters, and bringing it all home with the many skills he's built up as an actor, writer, and director over the years. His strength at establishing and capturing the specific milieu of a film is well applied here, from the more obvious late '70s time period styling and production design and the glam, not always tasteful artifice of Hollywood to the hustle and bustle foreign exotica, both in its everyday crowded routine and the politically tense climate, in Iran. No stranger at the task of tonal balance (dating back to his seriocomic Good Will Hunting script), he makes the broader comic strokes and banter from the faux movie scenario, the more dramatic human element with the embassy workers, and the nuts-and-bolts minutiae of the espionage mission and their resulting action/suspense beats, all emerge organically from and ring true within the overall narrative.
That latter truth is further reinforced by the entire cast, again benefiting from Affleck's usual generosity as a director. He may play the de facto lead character of CIA mission head Tony Mendez, but he is very much a cog in a much larger operation and picture, if admittedly the most crucial one. Mendez starts things off and then brings everything home (literally and figuratively), but this is very much an ensemble piece, with him receding into the background where necessary when comes time to highlight the Hollywood end, the higher government end, or the embassy escapee end. As such, the film really does feel like a true, fairly well-rounded look at the entire situation and all the various, diverse parties involved, with every actor disappearing into their roles from the inside out.
This overall relaxed yet confident inside-out command of the material paired with Affleck's equally confident trust in his collaborators is ultimately why Argo elevates the standard of what a studio entertainment can be--and that term needs to be emphasized, for the film, for all its ample smarts and solid academic craft, is just a great time at the movies.