Now how does this particular saying go folks: ‘From yesterday’s laughing stock to today’s go-to genius?’ Well, this assessment certainly applies to director/actor Ben Affleck whose misguided moviemaking antics of yesteryear was frothy fodder for the tabloids, critics and moviegoers alike (ah, those ‘Bennifer’ years were something else, huh?) were a guilty pleasure distraction to behold a decade or so ago. Now Affleck has definitely put this nostalgic nonsense aside in recent times as his command for filmmaking has seasoned considerably and respectively.
Nowadays, contemporary treasures such as ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘The Town’ have definitively overshadowed Affleck-oriented duds that include painfully pointless ditties such as the notoriously panned ‘Gigi’, ‘Pearl Harbor’ or holiday hogwash ‘Surviving Christmas’. Thankfully, Affleck continues to thrive behind the camera (and in front of it) for the superbly compelling based-on-a-true-story political thriller ‘Argo’. Fiercely directed and fortified with penetrating performances, ‘Argo’ is a piercing suspense thriller that is crackling with wryness and raw nerviness.
Clearly, Affleck’s capabilities behind the camera demonstrate what a feisty and captivating reverence that the politically conscience-minded artist holds for the historical American turbulence that involved the United States and its brush with Iranian insolence (the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis) during the ending of a problem-ridding late 70’s Jimmy Carter presidency. Absorbing and intensifying, ‘Argo’ is smart, devilishly witty, stirringly observational and keenly perceptive. As a well-balanced and shrewdly delivered drama, Affleck’s narrative is poised in its sophisticated absurdity.
Undoubtedly, ‘Argo’ should be considered an early Oscar contender with its probing mindset into wayward American insider politics, foreign affairs intrusion, the outrage and contrasting viewpoints of disillusioned countries and international strife and the underlying surrealism of the overall craziness that manifested itself beyond outlandishness. Affleck’s challenging direction and comprehensive vision ably complements screenwriter Chris Terrio’s sobering script that solidly runs on all cylinders in this masterfully entertaining chaotic drama that recalls the hostage-held shenanigans on the verge of an incoming Reagan administration and the introduction to a newly approaching 80’s decade.
‘Argo’s real life tale concerns the true events focusing on the heated discord of the Iranians disapproving of the United States harboring their disgraced and sickly Shah after ousting him from their country. As an act of political defiance against the USA’s hasty decision to shelter the beleaguered Iranian leader, new national figurehead Ayatollah Khomeni and his disgruntled people needed to make America pay the ultimate price for their interference in coddling to the shunned Shah.
In retaliatory fashion, the angry Iranian mob’s intolerance of Americans within their borders resulted in them storming the U.S. embassy based in Tehran and taking its workers hostage for 444 days. However, these were six of the U.S. embassy employees that were able to escape the wrath of the hostile Iranian takeover. Resourcefully, they find comfort in hiding out at the Canadian ambassador’s home as the ugly seize unfolds at the U.S. embassy’s embattled walls. Of course, this raises the serious question as to how to rescue these six American diplomats and transport them back to the States without the scrutiny of Iranian officials discovering them?
Enter CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck). The preposterous notion of Mendez’s plan to sneak out the six vulnerable individuals under the deceptive guise of filming a Middle Eastern Science Fiction movie entitled ‘Argo’ as they scout locations to shoot this so-called film requiring authenticity from Hollywood handlers to the covert operation cooperation of the American and Canadian governments working together in order to dupe the tirade-ridden Iranians. From hunting down actual Tinsel Town hotshots to placing phony publicity about the sci-fi flick setting in Argo’s territory through the pages of ‘Variety’, Mendez and his cohorts need to sell the idea of legitimate show business collaboration to engineer this tricky agenda.
Among Mendez’s Hollywood connections to pull of the ‘Argo’ ruse include a finicky producer named Lester Siegel (Oscar-winner Alan Arkin, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’) and fussy makeup artist John Chambers (multi-Emmy Award nominated John Goodman). The governmental forces helping to call the shots include CIA management consultant Jack O’Donnell (Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, ‘Breaking Bad’) and Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber formerly from TV’s ‘Alias’).
Affleck does an astounding job of switching the overtones of ‘Argo’s riveting make-up from an intriguing international political pot-boiler to that of a crafty and comically-fueled satire on Hollywood’s filming industry and its self-indulgent importance. The usage of gifted supporting players such as veteran mainstays Arkin and Goodman are riotous as the Hollywood hacks on board for the risky ride. Both these performers are worthy of Oscar nods for their irreverent turns in this clever caper. In fact, ‘Argo’ should shadow Affleck and Terrio with Academy Award consideration as well given the slick and seductive approach to the diligent direction and sharp-minded writing.
As a spy thriller and roguish political genre that skillfully recalls the harrowing hedonism of America’s ‘polyester period’ in the economic crunch of the late 70s/early 80s, ‘Argo’ is spot on with its ode to the bombastic behind-the-scene banality of playground politics rooted in the seeds of cynicism and suspicion.
Yes’ Ben…your days of playing second fiddle to your fellow Bostonian buddy Matt Damon are seemingly over and now the ridiculing echoes of ‘Bounce’, ‘Jersey Girl’, ‘Forces Of Nature’, ‘Smokin’ Aces’ and ‘Armageddon’ should be silenced…at least now for the time being anyway.
Argo (Warner Bros. Pictures)
1 hr. 58 mins.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Taylor Schilling, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Titus Welliver, Zeljko Ivanek, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane
Directed by: Ben Affleck
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Mystery & Suspense/Drama