The Best Film This Year
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 12, 2012 11:10
Stop what you are doing and go see Argo right now.
Ben Affleck's new film, based on a true story, focuses on a a group of American workers who escape the embassy in Iran. Tony Mendez (Affleck), an ex-field specialist with the CIA, comes up with the seemingly crazy idea of using a Hollywood film crew as a cover to extract the group from Iran. That is, the United States government completely made up a film in order to get these hostages out, then gave credit to the Canadians because they were not allowed to act. It would be a ridiculous story if it was not based on true events which only became declassified within the last decade.
Argo is everything that you want a film to be. The drama is real, complete with fleshed out characters and a real sense of investment in each and every one of the people whom find themselves in danger. There is a level of tension appropriate to a good horror or thriller which escalates the stakes in a fashion that is both rare and intense, making you second-guess the innocent nature of the film at times. That innocence comes from the naturally stitched in comedy, provided mainly by the superb John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the film industry types.
While the hostages are requiring extraction, a couple film guys are chilling out in Hollywood, demanding that their fake film be a fake hit, complete with ridiculous and amazing science fiction costumes and lines. Yet, in spite of this genuinely hilarious section, the film never feels broken down into individual story lines in a way that detracts from the film overall. Every piece corresponds and weaves together into a masterful blend of humor, tension, and sincere heart.
The “House Guests,” as Affleck refers to them, are the six embassy workers who escaped and took shelter in the Canadian Ambassador's home during the Iranian revolution of 1980. They were cast by relative unknowns, including Clea Duvall (Girl Interrupted, “Heroes”) and Rory Cochrane (Public Enemies, “24”), helping the audience to find the characters more identifiable and the actors more sincere in their roles. Even Affleck, as the CIA Ex-Field Agent Mendez, grew his hair and beard out in a way almost surreal to portray his 70's character. Amazingly, photos are shown at the end of the film to display just how important it was to the crew to match the somewhat ridiculous makeup, hair, and wardrobe of the characters with their real-life counterparts.
Affleck had all but faded into disappointing obscurity with films like Gigli, until his recent comeback with the quiet but quality Gone Baby Gone and then the less strong but still fantastic The Town. With Argo, Affleck reminds audience members that he earned his role here in Hollywood, both as actor and director, and challenges people to try discounting him again.
Bryan Cranston, as Mendez's CIA superior, and Victor Garber, as the Canadian Ambassador, provide two of the more recognizable but equally strong roles in the film. Perhaps more surprisingly, however, are the performances of Tate Donovan, Kelly Bishé, and Scoot McNairy as three of the embassy workers. Each embodies their characters in a way that make it nearly impossible to view them as anything other than those embassy workers: Bob, Kathy, and Joe (respectively).
The script is especially witty, throwing out lines about how even a racist monkey can direct and the film's unofficial slogan: “Argo f*ck yourself.” There is no part of the film which feels still, awkward, or forced. Each and every line is sincere and genuine in a situation which demands an increased sense of responsibility on the entire cast and crew. After all, this film's true events call for a certain level of accuracy.
The lighting, soundtrack, and other aspects of the film are good enough to remain unnoticeable without ever stretching into the realm of impressive. With this film, that's a benefit, allowing the audience to focus on the strength of the script and the acting rather than getting caught up in unique and unconventional cinematography or bizarre choice of song. Every individual aspect is strong enough to never fall flat, but each works synergistically to build the others without ever trying to stand out or draw attention.
The film is an entertaining triumph. It reaches Oscar-worthy heights without losing a mainstream audience in an amazing and expertly crafted display of talent. All that remains is to see the film, wait, and watch how many awards it racks up as the Academy Awards approach. If you don't care about hype or getting in on the ground floor, so to speak, see the film because it's a genuine masterpiece. This film is appropriate for pretty much anyone and everyone and should be enjoyed by all.