The 400-Word Review: Argo
By Sean Collier
October 12, 2012
It’s admirable — but not particularly rare — to turn a good story into a good movie.
To realize that the story is best told in an entirely different genre ... that’s exceptional.
The real-life tale of six American diplomats rescued from a hideaway in Canada’s Tehran embassy is a geopolitical drama, arranged covertly by the CIA and Canadian officials and executed by skilled covert agent Tony Mendez and a host of Canadians and support staff in Iran. A drama, certainly; a thriller at moments.
In Argo, though, it’s a heist flick.
Under director/star Ben Affleck and screenwriter Ben Terrio, the operation has more in common with Ocean’s Eleven than the likes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While the reality of the crisis is real, and presented as such, the Hollywood buildup to the rescue — executed under the cover of a Canadian film production — is almost gleeful, reveling in the most unlikely extraction scheme ever conceived.
Affleck somewhat unexpectedly announced himself as a skilled and captivating director with Gone Baby Gone in 2007. While 2010’s The Town felt a bit more contrived, it was no less compelling. With Argo, Affleck may succeed in forcing moviegoers to regard him as a director first and an actor second. His work is stellar, constantly walking a tightrope between the unlikely and genuinely laughable nature of the caper and its dire real-world implications; at the helm of Argo, many would’ve made a film that was insultingly light-hearted or depressingly severe. In Affleck’s hands, the tone is pitch-perfect in every scene.
He’s supported, as usual, by a perfectly collected cast. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are delightful as the Hollywood bigwigs tasked with making the plan plausible; Bryan Cranston, as the put-upon middleman at the CIA, exceeds even the lofty expectations put on him. The six younger performers who portray the hostages don’t distinguish themselves from the crowded pack, but convince you that they are overwhelmed, bitter and scared.
Argo benefits from a group of strong circumstances that give it a leg up as soon as the film begins. Old Hollywood (even as late as the early '80s) is entertaining. Covert operations are entertaining. Daring rescues in faraway lands? Entertaining. The fact that all of this really happened was a gift to (and from) Hollywood. The fact that it was executed precisely and, yes, entertainingly is thanks to a skilled writer and director.