“Argo” Movie Review

     Actor/Director Ben Affleck has succeeded at a level not previously attained with his new suspense thriller “Argo”, the story of six U.S. government employees who slipped out of the U.S. Embassy in Iran just prior to what became the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979.  The film is a masterful work which is so well done on practically every level, it’s difficult to find a flaw.  This means “Argo” will likely find the type of awards season praise that eluded Affleck’s last film “The Town” and will likely compete for a Best Picture Oscar when the nominations are announced early next year.  Anything less would be a travesty as Affleck has mixed the ingredients of fine acting and dialogue with a deft touch for suspense and the timing of comic relief at just the right moments.

     The film’s plot centers around a story which was declassified by the Clinton Administration in which CIA “Exfiltration Specialist” Tony Mendez cooks up a plan to extract the six Americans from Iran who have been hiding in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador since the crisis began.  As the proceedings begin, Affleck immediately captures many of the important calling cards of the time.  Yes, I’m told this is now considered a “period piece” in that life in the late 1970s and early 80s is quite foreign to today’s technology dominated society.  It’s clear from the beginning that Affleck wants to make a point of how people at all levels communicated back then, as the film is littered with green and yellow rotary dial land line phones and 19 inch picture tube color television sets.  If your in your late 30s and beyond, this likely won’t seem as much of a stretch, but I can just imagine what your average 20 something will think when they see these now archaic means of communication and media.

     Beyond technology, Affleck’s characters also populate 1970s Hollywood, a time when making the next “Star Wars” was all the rage.  Appropriately, Affleck’s son in the film has a bedroom that includes “Star Wars” sheets and shelves lined with action figures, something I can certainly relate to then and now.  Mendez concocts a plan in which he sets up a fake production company in Hollywood with the help of several successful men working in films at the time.  This includes Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (John Goodman) who assist Mendez in making the world believe they are about to produce the next big science fiction extravaganza titled “Argo”.  The script for “Argo” is chosen for its need of exotic Middle Eastern locations and thus the reason and need for on location scouting.

     Mendez travels to Iran under the identity of a Canadian film producer and has the ambassador create authentic travel documents to include the six Americans he is hiding.  With media attention already given to the fake film in the Hollywood trades and a production office being manned by Siegel and Chambers, Mendez is to take the group into the city of Tehran and actually pose as if they are doing location scouting.  Each member of the group has been given an official title ranging from Director to Screenwriter and they are intent on actually appearing to the masses as if they are there to make a movie.  Once completed, they are set to fly out the next day under their cover names and escape what would almost certainly be death at the hands of the Iranians. 

     As you would expect with this type of film and subject matter, nothing goes exactly as planned.  Affleck composes a number of sequences that bring up the suspense level as both politics at home, bureaucracy in the CIA, and the Iranian operation under way to discover their identities all play a role as road blocks to freedom.  Arkin and Goodman are exceptional in their roles and provide much needed humor throughout.  Too many times these types of films play it dead serious and thus leave the human aspect out completely.  In tense situations, it always helps to have a few guys who make it all the more bearable and Arkin and Goodman are those guys.  As Mendez’ boss at the CIA, Jack O’Donnell, Bryan Cranston is also excellent and is certainly given his moments late in the picture when Mendez needs him the most.  The casting of the six Americans who so desperately want to get out alive is also spot on.

     If “Argo” reminds me of anything, its other 1970s films such “All the President’s Men” and that’s a good thing since Affleck’s intention was to make a film that has an authentic feel to it.  If you didn’t already know these actors, then you would probably think “Argo” was produced in the 1970s as the production design here is that good, complete with intercut footage and photographs from the actual incident as well as President Jimmy Carter’s press conferences addressing the American people.  It is these types of films where I feel movies can really excel.  What Affleck has done here is show new generations that even though technology in the late 70s paled in comparison to today, everyone still found a way to get the job done.  “Argo” is easily one of the best films of 2012.  GRADE: A