© 2012 Ray Wong

As a member of the SAG Award Nomination Committee, I was fortunate to attend a special screening of Argo with a follow-up Q&A session with director-star Ben Affleck and the rest of the cast.

Set at the end of 1979 over a period of over 144 days, Argo chronicles the secret rescue of six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. During the uprising, the diplomats including Bob Anders (Tate Donovan) and Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall) escape. Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) and his wife take a great risk by harboring them. But their time is running out -- the hostage situation has not been resolved, and the Iranians have realized the missing Americans and are in search for them.

CIA Agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan to get the Americans out of Iran. The plan, by it self, is ludicrous, but it's the best possible plan the CIA has come up with. Mendez will pose as an Canadian filmmaker trying to make a movie and scouting locations in Iran, and he will attempt to leave the country with the Americans as his crew.

The plan calls for Mendez to personally risk his own life. Succeed or fail, nobody will ever know about this, so Mendez only does it for the love of his country and countrymen, and not for glory or fame or anything else. And he has to do it alone. Well, not completely. In order to pull it off, he will need to make the operation as realistic as possible, and he enlists the help from his friend, famed makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).

Ben Affleck (The Town) has definitely matured as an actor (more on his ability as a director later). As is, he does a good job portraying the stoic and contemplative CIA agent. Still, I find him somewhat miscast -- he is too good-looking a movie star to pull off playing a covert operative (let alone the real guy isn't a white guy). It's okay for the director to star in his own movie, but the role must fit. In this case, I am not too convinced.

That said, the cast in general is superb. Bryan Cranston (Rock of Ages) is fantastic as Mendez's boss. He just comes across as someone you can trust, who, despite his ruthlessness and harsh opinions, would have your back no matter what. Alan Arkin (The Muppets) is hilariously brutish (and refreshingly honest) as the producer. John Goodman (Trouble with the Curve) is spectacular as Chambers -- playing a real, famous person like John Chambers is a challenge in itself, and Goodman does a great job with it. He and Arkin make a great comedic team, and help add dashes of humor to an otherwise tense thriller. The superb cast also include the always-solid Victor Garber (Take Me Home) as the good-hearted Canadian Ambassador, Tate Donovan (Below the Beltway) and Clea DuVall (Conviction) as two of the Americans.

Written by Chris Terrio (Heights), and based on an article by Joshuah Bearman, the screenplay is taut and fast-paced. It starts with a prologue that sounds somewhat heavy-handed but does give a solid historical background of the crisis. Terrio also succeeds in injecting humor, mostly through the characters of Chambers and Siegel and by poking fun at Hollywood. The rest follows a taut thriller arc. The character are generally larger than life, and even the smaller characters seem three-dimensional. The dialogue is terse and to the point. The plot clips along at a brisk pace. I can't remember any major plot holes, even though some of the situations seem rather outlandish. The risks these people take are nerve-racking, and that's why the thrills work.

Director Affleck has blossomed as a filmmaker. He has made a few fascinating films such as Gone Baby Gone and The Town. He continues his streak with Argo which may very well give him his first Oscar nomination as a director. The pacing is superb. The suspense is amazing -- I was at the edge of my seat throughout the entire movie, even during the witty moments. The tension near the end was palpable, even though we know they have all gotten out (we know our history). The production is handsome and true to the era and material.

Despite my trepidation of Affleck being in the lead role, I am truly impressed with the production, the writing, and the acting. Argo is a fantastic political thriller. And smart, too. The facts and historical details (albeit the requisite creative licenses, of course -- this is, after all, a drama/thriller, not a documentary) add tremendously to the authenticity and gravity of the story. So, yeah, Argo see it!

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane
Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Chris Terrio (based on article by Joshuah Bearman)
Distributor: Warner Bros
MPAA Rating:  R for language and some violent images
Running Time: 120 minutes 


Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.9 out of 10.0 

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