They say the third time’s a charm, a cliché that is certainly appropriate for actor/director Ben Affleck. The Boston native, who shares an Oscar with best bud Matt Damon for co-writing “Good Will Hunting,” is no stranger to the movie scene. This is apparent in “Argo,” the third film Affleck has directed in the past five years.
It is in directing that the multifaceted actor has truly found his niche. With two successful films under his belt, Affleck steps out his comfort zone with and the familiar territory of a Boston setting, and heads straight for the Middle East with “Argo.”
Based on the true events of the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis, “Argo” follows the story of six escaped Americans hiding out at the Canadian embassy. When the CIA learns of the fugitive refugees, they bring in Specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) to help brainstorm ideas on how to safely extricate the workers from the country. No easy task, as Iran is in the middle of a revolution and is vehemently at odds with Americans due to their support of its recently dethroned Shah.
After dismissing several ideas, Mendez is inspired by the film “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” Mendez suggests that he pretends to be a movie producer scouting locations for a new sci-fi film, with the hostages acting as the film crew in a bid to escape on a plane ride back to the United States. It’s one of those instances where the saying “that’s so crazy, it just might work” really applies.
Mendez finds support from his superior Jack O’Donnell (played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame), renowned make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin in his funniest role since “Little Miss Sunshine”). Mendez ventures out to Los Angeles to help pitch the idea of “Argo,” an intergalactic action movie, hoping that the fake promotion will help the movie look genuine. Eventually, “Argo” gets some positive approval, thanks to the efforts of Chambers and Siegel, and Mendez flies out to Iran to attempt the daring rescue.
By this point, the film is hardly halfway finished, and yet Affleck’s masterful directing never implies that the movie is lagging. Along Mendez’s travels, the audience is given a glimpse into the world of espionage and sees just how much effort it took the CIA to rescue these six hostages. The film’s casting is a thing of brilliance, as the six escaped workers are all played with genuine earnestness. They give much heart to the film, as they show just what a harrowing ordeal this crisis was. For 79 days, the hostages were stuck inside the home of the Canadian Ambassador (Victor Garber) without the option to leave the premises. The rest of the hostages were held captive for an astonishing 444 days before finally being released in 1981.
The movie serves as a great history lesson for those who were too young to remember the events of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. If there is to be any criticism of this great film, it could be that those who are expecting fast-paced action and bloody death sequences will be disappointed. “Argo” is not a gore-fest, but an intricate look into the psyche of the six diplomats and the man who saved them. After the terror was over, Mendez was decorated with the highest honors in the CIA, and yet his actions were hidden from the public until President Clinton declassified the information in 1997.
“Argo” is a gem, one that is sure to be on the minds of Oscar voters come awards season. Affleck has now directed three fantastic films, proving that he is certainly not a one trick pony.
Whether you are looking for a smart thriller, or you are a history buff in need of a good nail biter, “Argo” is the movie for you. If you are neither, still go see this film; it might just prompt you to finally stop those Ben Affleck jokes once and for all.
Speakeasy Rating: A
Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Rated R for language and some violent images