I'm not a fan of Ben Affleck - neither as an actor, writer or director. Don't get me wrong - Gone Baby Gone and The Town are both good movies, but if I remember correctly neither of those made my top 25 of the respective year they premiered in. Argo, however, has a good chance for that, furthermore I would not be surprised if it got Academy Award for Best Picture. The film is thrilling, engaging, very well made and most of all - Hollywood saves the day and people's lives in it. But what makes Argo so special in so far uneventful year for moving motion pictures, the year, where at least for me the best films were mostly either from sci-fi genre or blockbusters, is that it manages to tell real story about real people with curious light touch, without pathos and yet it still manges to make you shed a tear.
The film opens with chilling sequence of the attack on embassy - we watch the employees as they fervently shred the classified documents instead of escaping, set on protecting other people and their country first and foremost. After the opening the film goes back and forth between the operation planning in CIA offices, Iran where the six people who escaped are hiding and the meetings Tony has with his Hollywood contacts - make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel. These two inject a lot of humour in the movie which provides nice moments of comic relief in between the tense and suspenseful scenes showing the danger the six escaped people are in.
While Argo definitely isn't my favorite movie of the year it has the most suspenseful and moving sequence I saw in 2012. It's the movie where you already know the ending, even if you don't know the story - you know these six people will be rescued, because, well, it's how it usually is in films. But the events preceding taking off of the plane made my heart race and the moment when the plane is in the air and everyone explodes with happiness was absolutely beautiful - I had tears in my eyes, though I didn't much care for the characters who needed rescue. It was pure movie magic - the triumph of good people whose courage created a miracle. Everyone fall in each others arms and smile. Argo is an ultimate crowd pleaser, as it would be hard to find happier ending in films released this year.
Affleck assembled very impressive cast - Arkin and Goodman deliver strong supporting performances, though they are mostly a comic relief in the movie. My favorite was definitely Bryan Cranston as Mendez's colleague in CIA - it's so great to finally see Cranston in a movie where he has something to do. He is such a terrific actor and he is usually criminally underused in his film projects. What made the triumphant success of the mission moment work so well for me was the expression of joy and relief on his face as he hears that the plane successfully took off.
There are plenty of recognizable and well known actors here - Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Victor Garber, Chris Messina and Zeljko Ivanek. Unlike Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Argo isn't the movie where certain actors clearly steal the spotlight - in the first one it was Amy Ryan, in the latter John Hamm and Jeremy Renner. Here the entire ensemble delivers good job, though there are no clear stand outs. Affleck delivers very good performance as Mendez - it's very easy to like him and we root for him not only to successfully extract people from Iran but also to work things out with his family and find happiness.
I don't know the real story well, so it's hard for me to determine what was fact and what was fiction, but I'm certain the chase at the airport was fictional. It's the miracle of movie magic again - everything is happening simultaneously and the good guys escape in the nick of time. But who cares when it works so well on the screen? Argo has some cliches thrown in it here and there, but the result is a very entertaining movie.In many ways it reminded me of last year's marvelous Moneyball - like that movie, Argo is a very slow burning film with one epic emotional scene - emotional for the audience, very subtle for the characters. Ben Affleck's subtle work reminded me of Pitt's delicate performance - they both played real people and they did so with a lot of respect and admiration.
The film isn't quite in he same league like similar character driven thrillers as Michael Clayton or Frost/Nixon but it's definitely worth seeing. It takes a while for the movie to engage you but the pay off is tremendous - the whole film is basically a set up to the last 20 minutes of the film which are amazingly thrilling. The story is something to marvel at too - Tony, mostly because of his own courage and determination, saved 6 lives of people who were basically left on their own in a hostile country. And he never let them lose their hope.
Argo (2012, 120 min)
Plot: A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.
Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman