Posted February 19, 2013 by Alex Moss Editor in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

Argo


There is a moment in Argo that perfectly captures the spirit of director Ben Affleck’s career, his comeback and the Hollywood system.

There is a moment in Argo that perfectly captures the
spirit of director Ben Affleck’s career, his comeback and the Hollywood system.

It directly speaks to Affleck’s transition from leading actor to hotshot
director when John Goodman’s make-up
artist come producer tells Affleck’s CIA agent; “You can teach a Rhesus monkey
to be a director”. There is no
doubt that Affleck’s raised eyebrow is as close to breaking the fourth wall of
cinema as you’re likely to see without looking directly down the barrel of the
lens. It is also as close to a
middle finger to the establishment as Affleck is ever likely to offer. For here is an actor who up until
2007’s Gone Baby Gone was on the
periphery of Hollywood. A string
of miss-steps such as Gigli, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas had
put Affleck firmly in the bracket of ‘has been’. The box-office credential had waned, petered out and
ultimately died.

And then he
turned his attention to directing.
Gone Baby Gone was a riveting drama mystery which caused people to stand
up and take note of this new incarnation of Affleck. He then followed it with blistering crime thriller The Town and suddenly here was a Rhesus
monkey who had learned to direct in what seemed like no time at all. Argo
is the culmination of his comeback, a film that is so brilliantly executed as
to leave no doubt that Affleck has taken his place among the Hollywood elite,
again.

Based on the
declassified true story, Argo is set in 1979 at the height of the Iranian
Islamic Revolution. With the
United States refusing to return former Iranian leader The Shah for trial in
his country, the US Embassy in Tehran comes under siege. Escaping out the back, six US Embassy diplomats hide in the Canadian diplomat Ken Taylor’s (Victor Garber) residence.
The CIA know that if the employees are found they will be shot and
killed as spies. With no ideas
forthcoming, exfiltration specialist Tony Fernandez (Ben Affleck) comes up with
the idea of a fake movie. Buying
the rights to a script and putting adds in Variety will sell the story to the
world. But he needs the help of
producers John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to make it believable. The plan locked, Fernandez heads to Iran on a location scout
to then fly out with the six Americans, posing as part of his Canadian film
crew. But can such an outlandish
cover story ever be expected to work?

From its opening
montage, giving a brief but hugely informative back-story to the Iranian Revolution,
to its closing credits, Argo is without doubt one of the most tense, funny and
enjoyable films of the last decade.
Rarely does a film have you laughing out loud one minute only to have
you chewing your nails to nubs the next. And yet in Affleck and Oscar winning screenwriter Chris Terrio’s hands that’s exactly
what this delight of a film does. The
juxtaposition of fraught and funny, for many films, would feel jarring but here
it is effortless, perfectly balanced and more than welcome. While Mendez is desperately trying to
convince the CIA honchos that his idea is the best plan, the producers back in
LA are busy hyping-up a film that doesn’t exist, because, as Lester Siegel says
“If I’m gonna to make a fake movie, it’s gonna to be a fake hit”. While the film pokes fun at Hollywood
it never feels anything less than a sly wink to the ludicrous nature of the
business rather than an all out scathing attack. By the end it speaks more to the magic of the movies, as we
traverse Mendez’s son’s room filled with Star Wars action-figures it’s clear
that movies are more than just a sum of their parts. They are magical stories that whisk us away to far off lands
where the impossible becomes reality.

More than
anything Argo demonstrates Affleck’s ability to hone his style to the genre in
question. Where The Town was a
frantic and kinetic thrill ride, Argo is a slicker affair. From its cigarette stained aesthetics
to the graceful way the camera glides through the narrative, Argo is not only a
gripping story but also a treat for the eyes. It is a hark back to the thrillers of the ‘70s and in a
similar way that Tinker Tailor Soldier
Spy
harnessed that nostalgic immersion, completely transports you to a
bygone era.

As well as his
reinvention as a director, Affleck seems to have single-handedly resurrected
his acting career. What grips with
Argo is that we’re presented with real characters from the off who rarely need
development or fleshing out.
Affleck’s Mendez is a quiet, calculating man. A man at odds with his patriotism and his absence in his
young family’s life, he’s never a flashy James
Bond
but rather a reserved, yet intelligent, agent eager to get the job
done. Goodman and Arkin, the
latter Oscar nominated for his performance, bring comedy gold. Their constant banter and quips
offering a double-act that is always memorable without threatening to
overshadow the main event. The
embassy members all stand out as individual characters despite often only
appearing as a group but Scoot McNairy,
who is having quite the year between this and Killing Them Softly, brings a strong yet terrified Doubting Thomas
persona to his role.

Compelling
without ever feeling heavy handed, Argo is a film that is so brilliantly
executed that by the end it is hard to suppress a tear of sheer euphoria. Call it what you like, the only way
Affleck’s come back could be anymore complete is if Oscar had seen the light
and nominated him for a Best Director Award. He’ll settle for best film and you just hope there is more
where this came from for an actor turned director who instills belief in second
chances.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com