Review: ARGO

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

As a child, I vaguely remember the hostage crisis in Iran, but I do recall hearing about it on the news regularly, as it lasted 444 days between 1979 and 1980.  During the Iranian revolution, Islamic militants took over the American Embassy and 52 Americans were taken into their custody.  Six American diplomats managed to escape the embassy during the raid and found refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home.  Argo tells the fascinating and incredible true story of how these diplomats were rescued by C.I.A. specialist Tony Mendez and brought back to the U.S.

Directed by Ben Affleck, with a screenplay by Chris Terrio, based on Joshua Bearman’s article, “Escape from Tehran”, Argo takes audiences through the raid on the American embassy and the efforts of the C.I.A. to bring the trapped diplomats home.  Tony Mendez (Affleck), comes up with the idea of staging a fake movie production as an excuse to enter the country and leave with his “movie crew”.  Mendez consults with Hollywood makeup expert John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) who set him up with a script– a science fiction movie titled Argo–and take him through the necessary steps of “pre-production” prior to his location scouting trip in Iran.  The diplomats are to pretend to be members of his crew and return with him in 48 hours.  With the revolution escalating and security measures tightening, it will not be an easy feat to accomplish.

Ben Affleck does an amazing job as director in this movie.  He, his cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, editor William Goldenberg, as well as his makeup and costume department painstakingly and in perfect detail take us back to the 1970s.  I recently read on line that Affleck shot on film and made sure the end result had a grainy appearance to give it a truly dated look.  This worked tremendously as the new footage matched perfectly to the actual news and television footage from that crisis situation.  Chris Terrio wrote a beautifully constructed script which combines some entertaining dry humor, Hollywood satire, and some genuine tension.  Obviously there is a predictability factor here, particularly for people familiar with the story.  Terrio and Affleck offer some tremendous writing and filmmaking here which utterly builds up the tension.  Another movie which also does this wonderfully is APOLLO 13.  So, yes, I am holding the director Ben Affleck in the same high regard as I do other seasoned filmmakers such as Ron Howard.  This, his third film, truly is his best so far.

The same goes for his acting. When Affleck first started making appearances in movies, he was either hit or miss for me.  I enjoyed his work in Chasing Amy, but winced at his British accent in Shakespeare in Love and his overall performance in Pearl Harbor. The man has really polished his craft and offers his finest leading performance as Tony Mendez.  The rest of the cast, which features Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, and several other talents; all perform superbly.

So, I suppose anyone reading this review might question, why a 3.5 and not a 4?  Well, as effective as the tension and suspense build in the mostly exciting climax, a few questions of realism did come up as I further pondered this story after watching it.  Actually, I hadn’t thought of another question until a colleague’s guest brought it up. I’d address these issues here, but I really do hate to give away too many spoilers.  Just take my word for it; some of the dramatic liberties taken in the film’s conclusion do raise some questions.  Otherwise, I highly recommend this movie.  It truly is an incredible story and one told rather exceptionally by a filmmaker who has proven himself with this third outing. Go spend top dollar to see it. It certainly is worth it.








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