The Monocle – “Argo”

Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio
Released: October 12th, 2012
Theatre watched at: Century 8 Theatres, North Hollywood

“Argo-f*ckyaself!” exclaim Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), John Chambers (John Goodman), and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) the moment they realize their comically absurd idea to rescue 6 members of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran from angered Islamic militants during the 1979 Iranian Revolution actually gains some fruitful traction. Now that’s something you can see Ben Affleck directing right? If you haven’t seen his films Gone Baby Gone (2007) or The Town (2010), or even knew that he actually has directed, you may be answering with a marginal “Yes” to a flat out “No” to that question. Let’s be honest, we all knew Affleck first as an actor, mostly for his great performance in Good Will Hunting (1997) and then…pretty much nothing else. He went down a pretty steep decline from there on with a slew of so-so action films, romedies/comedies, and dramas that, in the course of a decade, earned him 9 Golden Raspberry awards, scathing disapproval from comic nerds for Daredevil (2003) (now your memory is kicking in isn’t it), and a declined interest from audiences. Personally, I always liked Affleck, and I actually didn’t mind him as Daredevil (it really was just horrible, horrible direction), but I can’t deny that the movies he has acted in are of poor substance. Then came his directing career, and I finally felt a rush of hope again for his stamp on Hollywood. His first two films I mentioned above are fantastic and are already a part of my movie collection; they proved that he had the capability of telling stories that were grounded in reality and that capitalized on the story itself and not on big action or insanely intricate set pieces to move it forward. With that being said, class is dismissed for Ben Affleck 101, and it’s time to delve into his next great work- Argo.

Argo is a gripping, smart, and well-crafted suspense film that Affleck directs with such admirable attention that it’s easily his most accomplished work; what it lacks in emotional substance it makes up for in its humor, acute pacing and structural balance, and entertaining political satire. The film is based on the true events from a former classified CIA operation that took place during the 1979 Iranian Revolution in Iran. During a ferocious mob protest just outside the gated U.S. Embassy of Tehran, Islamic activists, angry with the U.S. for supporting the ejection of their beloved Reza Shah, take over the embassy and all its staff except for six who are able to escape,  and are taken in by the Canadian ambassador in Iran Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Surely to be captured and killed if found, these six Americans must stay indoors and out of sight until they can some how escape the country. Enter the United States State Department and CIA. Ex-fil and CIA specialist Tony Mendez is brought in, initially for consultation, to put together a plan to exfiltrate, or bring home, these trapped people. With the situation escalating quickly as the Islamic revolutionaries come closer to finding out that there are missing employees as well as the rise of Iranian security around every corner, all initial proposals to extract the employees prove to be ultimately ineffective. That is until Mendez lands on the idea that the best way to get their people back is to make a completely fabricated Hollywood, science-fiction film (along the lines of Star Wars) that requires “exotic” locations to shoot, that way he can enter Iran with less suspicion as well as disguise the six U.S. Embassy workers as a part of the film crew and convince the security at the Iran airport that they had been there for location scouting. With the help of two hilarious Hollywood “somebodies,” make-up artist John Chambers and producer Lester Siegel, Mendez initiates his plan to fool not just one, but three countries (United States, Canada, Iran), into thinking a science-fiction movie by the name of Argo is actually in production in order to ensure diplomatic peace . Badda bing, badda boom, you got yourself a rescue mission of insanely improbable odds that makes for some heart-pounding and intense cinema.

If there’s one thing this film nailed perfectly, it’s tension. Affleck is able to expertly craft rising tension in both the opening sequence as well as the final act. Some of you are probably “edge of the seat” standers, but I’m a nail biting kinda guy, and my nails haven’t been grossly pedicured by my teeth due to a film in a while, until now. These scenes are truly enchanting, and the key to creating such palpable suspense is by utilizing simple “cause and effect” scenarios that hook to large and catastrophic consequences, consequences that are slowly established through the course of the film; this Affleck accomplishes with a natural feel.

You wouldn’t think at first, but this film actually has a large, sort of ensemble, cast. They aren’t exactly A-list celebs, but the supporting roles are filled with familiar and respectable actors who you are surely to recognize from television and other film. Shout out to Titus Weliver who played The Man in Black on Lost who makes an appearance here! Love him! The performances all around are solid, no one drags but no one rises above the bar. The best performances I’m going to give to John Goodman, who has never been so good, as well as Alan Arkin, who provide the film with most of its humor as the comedic-relief duo in Hollywood.

Another feat of the film is the way it is able to tell three separate narratives of different tones and still feel like one solid unit. If you’re confused you’ll understand when you see it, but Mendez has to go through three different worlds here to accomplish his task: one is in Washington D.C. with all the hammer down political who-ha, two is in the unpredictable and fun Hollywood scene, and three is in the life-and-death war zone in Iran. After knowing this you start to see the ambition of the film, and why Affleck should be commended for his efforts and awarded in their success. It’s hard to notice how effortlessly the tone switches from an almost caper-style vibe in the Hollywood setting, to the intense, real, documentary feel in Iran. This is all thanks to a crisp screenplay that knows when not to overstay its welcome in certain scenes and sustains the over-looming idea that every second that passes, and every moment this fake film does not gain enough stability to achieve support from the government, the closer six Americans will be publicly executed leading to some not-so-peaceful diplomatic reformation.

An area I felt the film falls short in is in its tender moments, the parts where they try to probe at your heart for some tears and full character connections and relations. The theme of marriage and father-child relations is the most prominent emotional idea the film brings forth but it never quite emphasizes on it to the point of needing any sort of further resolution in the end; it attempts the jump but doesn’t stick it. If Affleck could have accomplished this as well, the film would have impressed me even more, but as a result, doesn’t blow me away. Regardless, Argo is a great achievement for Affleck and a film that should be seen. Although, It is not for everyone, so for those looking for some high-octane stuff, you may find much of it slow and boring, but those interested in good storytelling, solid performances, and attention to detail that will have you glued to your seat, you’re in for a treat.

As a final note, I’d like to call to attention the name of the real CIA hero- Tony Mendez (Antonio Mendez). As you will also see if you watch the film and sit through the end credits, where they give you a wonderful juxtaposition of screenshots from the film to actual pictures of the real people and events, that Tony Mendez is a Mexican American. Hm, Ben Affleck- born in Berkeley, California with Irish, Scottish, and German ancestry. Pretty much everyone else in the film closely matches and resembles their real-life counterparts, but the lead actor who we see the most in the film does not. Just saying! Controversy anyone?

Bow Tie Score - 4.0