‘Argo’ Review: See you at the Oscars, Affleck

Argo succeeds as an immersive, tense thriller based on real events that keeps you in suspense from start to finish, even though you may already know the ending.

There are movies that are released that make you feel like you are supposed to love them, but aren’t really that great to watch. If a film is receiving positive critical buzz, some people may think it’s a snoozefest, as many moviegoers nowadays are into CGI, superheroes, and young adult fiction adaptations. However, this is certainly not the case with Argo.

Photo: Warner Bros.

This film is a depiction of a previously declassified CIA mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1979 (the case information was released to the public in 1993). Here is the synopsis, thanks to the official Argo movie website:

On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, the Canadian and American governments ask the CIA to intervene. The CIA turns to their top “exfiltration” specialist, Tony Mendez, to come up with a plan to get the six Americans safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies.

The talented Ben Affleck is again behind the camera as well as in front, directing his next movie following the Charlestown heist drama, The Town (2010). He stars as the lead character, Tony Mendez, rounding out an excellent ensemble cast of Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, John Goodman, Chris Messina, and many more actors giving spot-on performances.

With Argo, Affleck truly rises to the occasion, creating a film that is gritty, perfectly set within its time period, and immersive for the audience, taking you into what feels like a 1970s world (just with better picture and sound). From the deteriorating Hollywood sign to the ’70s music, this movie makes you feel like you’re definitely in Tony Mendez’s era. Yes, the hairstyles are goofy, but there’s not much they can do about that… it happened.

Photo: Warner Bros.

The plot is constantly churning, and never hits a stale note. The mood is tense, keeping you on the edge of your seat even though you know the ending. Certainly Affleck deserves credit here, turning what could be a boring, predictable period piece into a gripping thriller. Sure, dramatic license is definitely utilized throughout the film, but what is amazing is that it is very difficult to tell the difference between what is fact and what is fiction (that is, if you aren’t an expert on the facts – like me).

It is also interesting to think that as an American who was not born yet during that time period, I am sure that the movie will speak differently to people of varying ages and ethnicities who see this movie. Not often do we get treated to a powerful movie about a critical event that has taken place so recently in the past. It is interesting to think upon the different perspectives of such a crisis that many people still vividly remember. The point is, though, that this film speaks to people, one way or another.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Without getting too political, the film covers ground from both the CIA end and the Hollywood end, expertly juxtaposing the more sinister issues at hand with the lighthearted satiric humor of the Hollywood fellas with whom Tony Mendez must collaborate (indulgently portrayed by John Goodman and Alan Arkin). Whether or not in real life the right decisions were made, Argo is able to transcend politics for the most part and tell a beautiful story of hope, survival, and perseverance in times of extreme peril and adversity. One leaves the theater breathing a sigh of relief, finally able to relax and reflect upon the seemingly larger-than-life events that actually transpired over 30 years ago. It also gives you a thirst for more information about those events that isn’t fictionalized for an audience.

Although Argo boasts a perfectly crafted ensemble cast, Affleck will undoubtedly garner some well-deserved attention come Oscar season for his directorial efforts. Check this film out to see what all the hype is about – you’ll be glad you did.

Argo Grade: A

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