Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishe, Rory Cochrane, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton, Philip Baker Hall, Richard Kind, Michael Parks, Tom Lenk, Christopher Stanley, Taylor Schilling, Ashley Wood, Sheila Vand, Devansh Mehta, Omid Abtahi, Karina Logue, Adrienne Barbeau and Fouad Hajji.
Ben Affleck has proved himself as one of the most promising new directors with his previous two movies, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. He did it once again this time with his movie Argo which is a historical/political thriller based on an article published in a newspaper about a CIA operative Tony Mendez who rescued six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Argo has done significantly great with both the audience and the critics and its been receiving awards all these past months. What makes Argo great in the eyes of many is how entertaining and thrilling it is as it plays very loose with the facts to make it more of a thrill ride rather than a genuine serious political thriller. In that sense, i think it both works and it doesn't but that only depends on how you perceive this movie. The opening sequence in which the Militants take over the U.S. embassy in Tehran have been done superbly well. It creates a very high amount of tension when you see the people trapped inside with nowhere else to go. They try to contact and see what they can do but they realize that there is no way out and that this angry crowd is going to arrest them and then do god knows what with them very soon. From the opening scene, the movie creates a great impression of being a very carefully constructed political thriller with a great eye on the details and the facts while recreating them in a bit dramatic but still factual based manner. We are shown the actual footage from the news channels etc at the same time during such scenes throughout the movie which proves really helpful while it shows how much vivid attention they gave to every bit of information they got.
Argo actually begins with a wonderful animated re-creation of the history of Iran and what led to this day. It is very wonderfully done and it engages you and prepares you for what you are about to see as a result of these things. The retaliation is brought upon because of the U.S. sheltering the deposed Shah of Iran. Many of the embassy staff are taken as hostages while six escapes somehow and hides in the home of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. That bit of information is kept secret at the time as the US State Department begins to consider options to carefully exfiltrate them from Iran. Tony Mendez criticizes their proposals but he himself is short of ideas at that moment. It is only until he hears on the phone about his son watching Planet of the Apes on TV, he suggest creating a cover story for the escapees as Canadian filmmakers looking for exotic locations for a sci-fi film. John Chambers (Goodman) who is a Hollywood make-up artist is contacted by Mendez and his supervisor Jack O'Donnell (Cranston). Chambers introduces Mendez to Lester Siegel (Arkin) who is a film producer. They set up a phony film studio and creates a fake project of "Argo" which will be a science fantasy just like Star Wars and publicize it just like a normal studio does. As they continue to slowly work on this idea, the escapees in the ambassador's residence grows frantic and scared as they see no way out or nothing to help them get away from here. Meanwhile the revolutionaries reassembles the shredded embassy papers they found and learns about some very important facts, including the information on those six escaped personnel. From then on, the movie becomes a cat and mouse chase following these three storylines.
The characters played by both Alan Arkin and John Goodman are very funny and they are kind of suppose to provide laughs in the most serious of situations. Specially Arkin's one with memorable lines like "Argo fuck yourself" or "Go fuck yourself, with all due respect" he is this very hilarious character. Alan Arkin delivers a really good comical performance that many of the critical eyed viewers are criticizing but i don't see how he doesn't deserves to be mentioned among the best supporting performers of the year. He performs exactly like a Hollywood producer would be like in that particular age, arrogant, foul mouthed with a bold and steadfast attitude and a critical eye regarding everything in his life. He is one of the memorable things about the movie or the most memorable character in the movie because he leaves that impression on you. John Goodman on the other hand plays a very goofy character who might be more lovable than Arkin's. He delivers a nice performance in the few scenes he is in. The director Ben Affleck himself plays Tony Mendez. I am of course a fan of Affleck behind the camera but he was suitable for this character i suppose because Affleck doesn't overdo it and plays him like one of those underdog characters who ends up surprising you. Though his performance is neither very comical nor very serious, he does it in a very subtle way where you don't know what he is thinking actually or know anything about him but you do know that he'll do something heroic at the end of the day. Mendez's personal life we know a little about, except one scene towards the beginning of the movie and then the end of course. His character is suppose to leave a lasting impression on you, you know one of those broken heroes who does one last heroic thing which leads them "on their way home" at the end of the movie. About those six escapees, their characters aren't very much developed so you don't feel much for them.
Argo is a fun, entertaining, tensed and a very exciting ride through the pages of history in a both serious but mostly darkly comic way. It is a movie where the "fun" lies when you are experiencing it at that particular moment. In the end, it isn't a movie that you'll reflect upon critically or dramatically because there isn't anything left to discuss about. The enjoyment in a thriller is when it is creating the tension the sweeping pulse pounding narrative that doesn't requires much from the audience but only their utmost focus and attention and what it doesn't require is a critical eye because as soon as you do that, you are derailed and all the fun just suddenly disappears. Argo isn't very deep but it has a sharply written script that surprises us on each turn even you do know how it all ends. The scene where they are trying to board the plane and one of the guard is trying to confirm their identity by calling their supposed studio is a bright example of how it sometimes goes a bit overboard. The phone is ringing, both Goodman and Siegel can't get in the real studio while in Iran, the life of those six people along with Mendez is in danger. It is a tensed scene no doubt but it is just too much. It comes towards the end of the movie, those last few minutes were very famous back when it was released. The reaction of the audience when it was initially screened was based on those last "nail biting" 30 minutes when those seven people are trying to escape the Iran. Yes even for me that ridiculous but very enjoyable scene when the plane is about to take off and their identities are uncovered by the revolutionaries and they are chased off by them on the airport runaway the very moment the plane is about to take off is extremely thrilling. The crescendo that is created during those few minutes reaches an unbelievable height even i couldn't sit on my seat during that.
Ben Affleck's best directed movie so far is something that will do very well with the Academy Awards and others for that matter. Argo is a historical based political suspense thriller with a grand scope, perfectly created period film detailing with nods to the espionage genre as well as Hollywood with its darkly comic representation of it. It is very uplifting at the end, presents the unbreakable human spirits. It isn't a war movie, it doesn't defeats its enemy through its armed forces but with wits and that is something that works a lot for it. Argo has superb editing as well as art direction as it juggles between so many things, narrative arcs, genres and places at the same time while the whole mood of that period have been very intelligently recreated. I also loved the background score of the movie, Alexander Desplat have been one hell of a busy man this past year. Argo is definitely one of the best movies of the year if not the best. It depends on you how much you criticize few aspects of it and how much you enjoy the others just for the sake of the thriller. It would have been a lot more troublesome otherwise but in the hands of Ben Affleck and his crew, the movie never feels to be either entirely silly or completely serious and it is one of the best example of typical Hollywood filmmaking at its best. One can always question the way Iranian or Canadian have been portrayed in the movie with completely forgetting to present a genuine case for one to somewhat minimizing the pivotal role of the other to present United States as the nation with the most human spirit in the world. Even i had some problems on that front but i am willing to ignore if not completely for the wonderfully crafted movie that it is. There is always a question whether to completely focus on the actual facts when making a movie because in that sense it becomes a documentary instead of a motion picture. With a movie, i think one is allowed to play a bit with the facts or add certain thing just for the sake of the narrative.