Movie Review: Argo
Ben Affleck has finally made his mark and drawn an X on the treasure map. Forgive the lame analogy but before <em>Argo</em> Ben Affleck was sooo forgettable. Handsome, but forgettable. The last movie that I can vaguely recall that was remotely fascinating was Good Will Hunting which was eons ago. And in his heyday (if we can even call it that), Affleck was more well known for his amorous relationship with J.Lo than his acting chops.
It seems however that marriage and fatherhood has changed him and as Argo would prove, Affleck is coming into his own as a director, producer and actor. The story is based loosely on an incident called the Canadian Caper where Tony Mendez, a former CIA operative rescued 6 diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. There’s alittle bit of background history that you need to read up on to fully understand and appreciate the context but basically in short, militants stormed the US embassy in fear and fury because the US was sheltering the recently deposed Shah. As a result, more than 50 embassy staff were taken hostage but 6 managed to escape and were taking refuge with the Canadian ambassador. And so the US state department are trying to figure out how to extricate them from this delicate situation. Mendez, inspired by the movie <em>Battle for the Planet of the Apes</em>, proposes that they film a fake movie set in exotic Iran. They will then use that as a cover, giving each diplomat a role in the film so they can fly out of Iran as a film crew.
The story itself is intriguing because it borrows from different genres and themes: science fiction, orientalism, spy fiction, history, biography (somewhat) and disguise. The beginning is alittle slow moving with quite abit of incongruous moments that don’t seem to make sense at first. I guess it is in a way purposeful because it shows us the many tedious and tiresome layers of clearance needed in a bureaucratic system. But the story really begins to come together once Mendez hires John Chambers (John Goodman) a brilliant makeup artist, producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and the cover story is complete. (And can I say that these two provide much needed comic relief to an otherwise serious film?) Then he finally gets to enter Iran and help the diplomats disguise themselves and assume their new identities.
The second part of the movie was so gripping and so full of tension. There were moments where I almost felt like they weren’t going to make it and I have to give credit where credit is due. Affleck crafted this perfectly. I was entirely engaged and engrossed every single bit of the way. The set was so real, the clothes were true to the time period, even the characters resemble their real life counterparts. It’s absolutely astonishing as you watch the credits roll and you see the juxtaposition of images.
Some may argue that it is a biased viewpoint put forth, that the Iranians look bad in this movie. Yes, there’s some degree of that with the sweatshops and swarms of little kids piecing shredded paper together to form evidence. Then there are the gun touting ruffians. The fire burning, the riots, the list goes on. But I guess the true heroes perceived in the film isn’t so much the Americans or Mendez (though this is glorified), but the Canadians. And even the house servant at the ambassador’s place. She in her small way, is also perceived as a hero. I guess we cannot escape from the biased viewpoint, after all it is an American movie (though interestingly, the beginning prezi bit does present balance what with the interference of the US in imposing the Shah in the first place). But if we put the politics aside, it is great storytelling and I did enjoy it. Alot in fact.
Truly an amazing movie well worth the 95% positive review on Rotten Tomatoes. I was utterly, completely, sold.