Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
I’ll say this for Ben Affleck – if this actor thing doesn’t work out he’s got a perfect job waiting for him behind the camera. With two Boston-set films (“Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town”) under his belt, Affleck moves his camera to 1979 Iran, where six members of the U.S. Embassy contingent are in hiding after the building was overrun by “students” protesting the United States giving asylum to the former Shah. How the six survived their ordeal is now featured in the new film, “Argo.”
Tony Mendez (Affleck) is among the best of the best in the C.I.A. He has made himself a “master of disguise” thanks to the help of another “master” – Academy Award winning make up man John Chambers (Goodman). In order to rescue the six citizens, who have found refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, the agency suggests several ways to get them out of Iran. None make sense. Until Mendez suggests a phony film crew help sweep them away. However, in Hollywood, even the phony needs press!
Based on a true story, “Argo” is the first great film of the soon to be approaching Oscar season. Affleck and his “crew” manage to get the six hostages outside and, hopefully, wheels up back to America. To do this the C.I.A. hires film producer Lester Siegel (a very funny Alan Arkin) to help get the word out about the “film.” And Siegel goes all out. “If I’m going to have a fake movie,” he tells Mendez, “it better be a fake hit!” But while the jokes fly in Hollywood, on the other side of the world the smallest mistake could be the escapee’s last. Director Affleck has perfectly recreated the feel of 1979, pulling no punches in depicting the “students” and others who wish to kill us only because we have different beliefs. He has also filled the film with actors whose work takes us back three-plus decades, among them Goodman, Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador and Cranston as Mendez’ immediate boss. “The whole world is watching you,” Cranston intones. “They just don’t know it yet.”
The film flows smoothly in an almost documentary style. During the end credits there are a selection of shots and scenes from the world in 1979 shown side-by-side with the same scenes in the film. The resemblance is uncanny. It’s obvious that Affleck has studied this subject. No, seriously. He majored in Middle Eastern Studies in college.
He has also studied well at film college. “Argo” helps cement his new reputation as a fine film maker, one who should hear his name called when Oscar nominations are announced.