Movie review: Argo

October 16, 2012


My Entertainment Weekly told me about Oscar whispers for Argo back in the summer. Even though, by nature, I am not typically a fan of political or historical movies, I’ve been keeping an eye out. As the opening for Argo approached, there was no denying something special was happening with this movie.

The Iranian Revolution is underway in Tehran in 1979 when citizens storm the American Embassy, taking hostage all American personnel as retaliation against America for taking in the former Iranian Shah (who did some pretty inhumane things). Six people slip out and are able to hide in the home of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran. The CIA has to remove the six ‘Houseguests’ before they are discovered to be missing from the embassy, which would mean certain death for them and the ambassador who houses them. It’s intense.

Argo is based on a true story, which adds a level of drama that a completely fabricated story might not have. You actually care for these characters because they represent real people who were trapped amid a revolution that sought to make them casualties. The historical accuracy wraps you into the urgency of the film.

But the nature of the rescue adds a completely different layer to Argo. The mission to save the houseguests is built on the premise that these six people never watch the news and are in Iran to scout a location for a sci-fi film. With the help of phony passports and a little movie magic, the plan has a fighting chance to work.

In the development of this operation, a fake Hollywood script must be found, Titled Argo, fake press held for the fake movie, fake storyboards drawn up, even a fake table reading with a real producer (Alan Arkin) and a real make-up artist (John Goodman), who together have created a fake production company to back this great fake film. All funded by the CIA. This part of the story is also true. It’s dazzling to watch the bogus movie come together as a cover to save six very real people.

The acting in Argo is nothing less than superb. Director Ben Affleck also stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA agent tasked with extracting the six Houseguests. Affleck seems to dedicate himself to this role, making sure that he isn’t over the top or glitzy, but rather true to the levity of the situation. John Goodman and Alan Arkin together may be my new favorite actor pairing. They too operate with certain intensity, but their characters provide comic relief amid an obviously critical moment in history. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston also adds both charm and edginess to his role as Mendez’s supervisor.

I can say with confidence that Argo is one of the best put-together movies I’ve seen this year, maybe even the best in a few years. It’s well executed on all levels, from the mostly true storyline, dialogue worth the price of admission, great acting, gut-wrenching cinematography, edge-of-your-seat pacing, and surprisingly good direction. I thoroughly enjoyed Argo.