Movie News

Nordling Says Do Not Miss ARGO!

Published at: Oct. 12, 2012, 12:24 p.m. CST by Nordling

 

Nordling here.

I’m old enough to remember the Iran hostage crisis.  I remember it fairly vividly – the way Walter Cronkite would count off how many days the hostages were in captivity at the end of each newscast, or the yellow ribbons, or the Iranian woman who would give the daily report and anti-United States rants on the news and how we would come to hate her so much – since I was a child I didn’t realize at the time that she was probably just as trapped, in her way, as the hostages were.  It was an especially dark time for our country, I remember.

Ben Affleck’s ARGO remembers that period of American history with uncanny clarity – the desperation for any piece of good news to come out of that awful situation.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t sugarcoat history, from either side – it is incredibly sympathetic to the hostages’ plight, but ARGO never lets us forget the background of how everything fell apart one day in 1979, either.  ARGO is an exemplary film, directed with utter confidence and skill by a man who for too long has not been taken seriously – as an actor or as a director, even though he’s already got two pretty great movies under his directorial belt.  ARGO is a huge leap forward and catapults Affleck into serious auteur territory.  Any director would be proud to have a movie like ARGO on their resume, and ARGO recalls the great films of the 1970s like Alan J.  Pakula’s ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN or Sidney Lumet’s SERPICO.    It is stunning  just how good this movie is.

In 1979, Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy, taking everyone there hostage.  However, six of the Embassy staff slipped out the back door and walked across the street to the Canadian ambassador’s (Victor Garber) house, and managed to avoid capture.  It’s only a matter of time before the Iranian authorities discover that they have six less hostages than they are supposed to have, and so the CIA frantically tries to come up with a plan to get them out. 

Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a doozy, after talking to his son while watching a PLANET OF THE APES movie; Mendez can set up a fake movie in Hollywood – a science fiction movie, since they are all the rage in 1979 – and use those credentials to pretend that the six hostages are with the film crew.  What it will take is to set up a real production, and for that he enlists the help of makeup man John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).  It’s a plan so crazy that it just might work, even as the hostages begin running out of time.

The tonal shifts from the deadly serious CIA scenes to the comedic Hollywood scenes are handled with real skill.  Once Mendez makes his way into Iran – a modern-day Mordor if there ever was one, especially in 1979 – the audience is on the edge of their seats wondering how they are going to pull this off.  It also doesn’t help matters that the six hostages are skeptical that this will even work.  Fortunately Mendez has a good friend in Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) who is willing to back his play.  But as politics shift and time begins to run out, the desperation of Mendez and the hostages becomes palpable.

Affleck is excellent at building tension.  He sets up the stakes very early, and as events unfold he takes great pains in letting the audience know that time is a factor.  As the film steps out of Hollywood and into Teheran, the situation grows more desperate and the hostages aren’t sure that Mendez can deliver what he promises, especially with such a harebrained scheme.  Even Mendez can’t be sure the operation will work.  Chris Terrio’s script is cracking good – full of wonderful lines and great characterization.  These hostages aren’t anonymous – Terrio gives each of them a voice and the performances live up to the words.  Alan Arkin and John Goodman, as the Hollywood execs, give the movie much needed levity, but they also bring great dignity to their performances as well.  Alan Arkin is especially good – he’s a producer that’s on the way out in Hollywood, but he just wants to do the right thing.  Goodman’s Chambers is equally passionate.  Fans will want to keep their eyes open to see Michael Parks play Jack Kirby – he doesn’t get any lines, but his manner and look are unmistakable.

Bryan Cranston is as good as he’s ever been as Mendez’s friend and partner – one particular scene as the plan reaches a crucial point has Cranston bringing out his inner Heisenberg for the purposes of good, and it’s a terrific moment.  Other supporting cast members like Kyle Chandler and Victor Garber do good work as well.  But Affleck as Mendez is terrific – playing a man used to blending into the wallpaper, Mendez is forced to put his principles and passion on the line to help rescue these people, and Affleck manages to cram all that empathy, fear, and determination in quiet moments that completely sell the character.

I imagine that the Academy might want to load up the dump truck full of awards to Ben Affleck’s house – but this is the rare occasion when all that Oscar hype is worth it.  ARGO is an intense, powerful story, full of great moments and acting, and it pushes Ben Affleck into another level of director.  ARGO would have fit perfectly with all those great character movies of the 1970s, and is easily one of the best films of this year.

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

Readers Talkback

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  • Oct. 12, 2012, 12:29 p.m. CST

    The movie was fake..

    by CodeName

    Awkward sounding tagline.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 12:45 p.m. CST

    Sounds excellent....

    by zastrow

    Kinda like a reverse Wag the Dog.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 12:48 p.m. CST

    I will definately check it out. I love these kind of stories.

    by Quake II

    Affleck has never bothered me (the first time I saw him in Dazed & Confused I knew he would be someone to watch) and I've enjoyed following him as he becomes one of the best directors working today. I'm SO glad Affleck is done with acting in shitty blockbuster action films. Argo looks great and it's got my 9 bucks.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 12:52 p.m. CST

    If It Wasn't For Incessant ShakeyCam

    by WriteFromLeft

    ...I'd go see it. I love the subject matter, but really, from what I've seen in the trailers, sometimes investing in a tripod is a good idea. Having to take Dramamine before seeing a movie isn't my idea of a lot of fun.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:09 p.m. CST

    Nordling says donut. Miss Argo.

    by HadWoodenTeethChasedMobyDick

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:18 p.m. CST

    Are we going to get any more HOBBIT video blogs?

    by DoctorWho?

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:28 p.m. CST

    Oh Argo I love you so much! Jizz jizz jizz!

    by Fries Against

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:33 p.m. CST

    +1. VERY STOKED THAT SOMEBODY IS PLAYING JACK KIRBY!

    by Gus

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:34 p.m. CST

    looks good

    by Stifler's Mom

    At this point, I'll see anything that doesn't have fucking superheroes, vampires, or zombies. Just the fact that an original script about sophisticated subject matter is getting a wide release blows my mind. And with a cast of real actors, no less- no pop stars, no heartthrobs, none of them under the age of 40. What a concept.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:40 p.m. CST

    So Hollywood did what Jimmy "the Dolt" Carter couldn't?

    by Marc Cerasini

    Is this a true story? I guess we should send producers and directors into Iran next. They could save the world.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 2:29 p.m. CST

    So the consensus is about three Oscar noms, minimum?

    by terry1978

    Because I have yet to see any negative reviews of this thing, and any that are still sound positive.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 4:06 p.m. CST

    hansvonhammer

    by evergreen

    Ronald Reagan got 220 dead Marines killed in Beirut. Ronald Reagan sold weapons to terrorists. His defense? "I don't remember".

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 4:32 p.m. CST

    I've been excited for this film since it was announced...

    by Danny Boil

    ...and I loved "The Town." Very psyched. Just look at that S Car Go!

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 4:33 p.m. CST

    (BTW, who would have guessed, only a few years ago...

    by Danny Boil

    ...that Ben fucking Affleck would turn out to be the actor/director he's turned out to be?)

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 5:38 p.m. CST

    Saw the first showing this AM...

    by Christopher Plummer

    All around solid movie; impressed, entertained, and thankful that someone is making these type of flicks again. It's nice to know that all those years of liking Affleck in the ViewAskewniverse paid off. I'm more of a fan of Gone Baby Gone than I am of The Town, but this one doesn't compare. Completely different tonally and patient in a way that most movies don't dare to be in this day and age. Not sure if it's Oscar gold, but sure that the folk on this site would be happy they dropped the cash to see it in theaters.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 5:52 p.m. CST

    by AcesUp

    If it weren't for all the crappy shit people hate affleck for he would probably have never had the opportunity to make a movie like Argo. So maybe the sometimes akward choices he made have been a good thing, at least presently for us movie geeks. I personally have never hated him but I see how his seeming smugness could rub people the wrong way.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 6:33 p.m. CST

    Regarding Shakey-Cam

    by Cody

    If I recall correctly, Argo has very little of it to none at all. There is some handheld work, but very much in the 70's handheld vein, as opposed to the shitty barrage of quivering that we call Shakey-Cam nowdays. I'm pretty sure most of the movie is locked down or on a dolly or crane.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 6:59 p.m. CST

    It really is a great film

    by Logan_1973

    Just got back, and am still stunned at how good it is. Best Pic nominee for sure.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 7:51 p.m. CST

    It's really good, not 'great'

    by Brian Hopper

    Very tense and evocative of a mishmash of 70s thrillers. Affleck's direction is confident but still a bit workmanlike. A really entertaining and worthwhile film, but slightly overhyped by critics. The obvious: Affleck is a major director now (which is to say, he's perceived as a major director), and one cool thing about that is he's interested in doing a blockbuster-style movie and he'd be GREAT for that. I hope it's The Stand, but if it's Justice League (which I guess he passed on) or something else that's cool, too.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 8:10 p.m. CST

    Do they use the Jack Kirby art? If not, why not?

    by Odkin

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 8:18 p.m. CST

    Affleck seems to be aping George Clooney a bit.

    by Gary Makin

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 8:28 p.m. CST

    And don't miss Cloud Atlas either! Or Holy Motors!

    by D.Vader

    Nordling will be very disappointed in you if do! I keed, I keed =P.

  • who kept the famous "clock" counting the number of days of the crisis. At least, that is my recollection.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 10:38 p.m. CST

    Affleck was da Bomb in 'Phantoms'!

    by Evil Chicken

    Ben Affleck has the skills. The film looks great and if Nordling calls it one of this years best who am I do disagree. Looks like one for the Academy and that's a good thing. I know it's early but "Lincoln" and "Argo" sound like the sure bets for nominations thus far. Just sayin'.

  • Oct. 13, 2012, 1:39 a.m. CST

    I knew how this film was going to end....

    by tjrmusic

    ....and I was still in in suspense. The Film was excellent. One of the best I have seen this year.

  • Oct. 13, 2012, 6:08 a.m. CST

    overrated

    by DocPazuzu

    How do you kill 220 dead marines?

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 11:32 a.m. CST

    As a Canadian I call complete and utter "bullshit" on this movie

    by Pdorwick

    Remember the move "U-571" where the Americans break the Enigma code just like they did in real life? Remember how the British were appalled? Well this movie is Canada's U-571. The Americans, the CIA and the character played by Affleck had such minor roles in the real event as to be almost insignificant. For the actual story see the Canadian mini-series "Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper" and then learn a little history.

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 6:05 p.m. CST

    pdorwick don't be so oversensitive.

    by Walterego

    As a Canadian-born American I'm telling you that the jingoistic chip on the shoulder that so many Canadians have about the USA comes off as insecurity. The movie credits the Canadian ambassador and government plenty. You are used to thinking of this as an exclusively Canadian operation because the CIA kept its role secret until the late 1990s. But clearly the CIA exfiltration agent portrayed by Affleck played a central part in getting the American diplomats out. That's what the film is about, the danger of smuggling them out right under the nose of the Ayatollah and his sinister regime. That Canada hid the Americans and assisted the CIA is perfectly apparent in the film, Canadians should see this and be proud of their country's place in a remarkable event in history. Which I'm sure many Canadians will. No need to get bothered about the protagonist being the spy managing the escape, a spy is a much more dramatic character than an ambassador.

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 10:19 p.m. CST

    This felt really generic and paint-by-numbers to me.

    by reise reise

    I thought the writing was especially obvious at times, like the way the film tries to shed light on Affleck's character by throwing in a couple brief scenes with his kid. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I also felt the level of tension generated was mild at best. Each time the film cut to the hidden Americans, my interest waned. Most critics seem to consider this a big step forward for Afflect as a filmmaker, but I thought it lacked the intensity, dynamic character work and strong sense of place that "The Town" and especially "Gone Baby Gone" displayed.

  • Oct. 14, 2012, 10:26 p.m. CST

    by reise reise

    Adding to my previous comment, I know "Argo" is more expansive in its setting than Affleck's previous movies, so it might seem obvious for them to have a strong sense of place since they're dealing with a single, specific location. Still, there was a sense of spontaneity within individual scenes in those films, while mostly everything in "Argo" felt robotic to me, like the movie was on awards-bait auto-pilot.