I would never come outright and say I’m vindicated in the fact that I don’t keep up to date on all details of current events or even past historical events when a film comes out that’s “Based on true events.” I will say though that it affords me the capability to be truly captivated by said movie when I get a chance to see the dramatized versions of the event. Ben Affleck’s ARGO captures a time period that I not only knew nothing about, but kicked me to the edge of my seat from the get go and left me there for the duration.
Set during the Iranian hostage situation in the late 70’s early 80’s Affleck’s film sets a perfectly fleshed out time period and characters that feel real. Affleck stars as a CIA operative tasked with coming up with the idea that will hopefully get 6 US Embassy members out of the hostile situation alive. Affleck’s performance, while subdued, is still pretty good while the individual performances from each of the escaped Embassy members are good, no one stands out in particular aside from maybe the welcome and hilarious cutaways to John Goodman and Alan Arkin’s Hollywood characters and whenever Bryan Cranston is on screen.
The bare minimum character set up is employed to develop these individuals, which is just enough to care about rather or not they make it (should you not already know the outcome). What really sells ARGO though is the meticulous attention to detail for the setting and tense set pieces. The audience (or at least me) felt much like one of the hostages with a bag over my head knowing someone is aiming a gun at me and the unbearable anticipation of that person pulling the trigger. Another apt comparison would replace the aimed firearm as a noose that tightens ever so slightly the longer the film goes while we as an audience keep waiting for the chair to be kicked out from under us.
Affleck’s previous film THE TOWN, which I loved, compares similarly to ARGO in that Affleck handles the material with such poise with so many different stellar storylines or plot mechanics that at times it would be nice if one stood out more than another. That being said, while there isn’t a standout performance in ARGO, I still think the film is superior to THE TOWN as a tighter even more engaging and affecting experience.
I’m not naive enough to end this without saying that in the harrowing last half hour of film the dramatization of events feels embellished and manipulative- but I didn’t care. I’m not one to lift my nose at depicting real life events in the Hollywood system and proclaim them to be absurd and transparent in their attempts to illicit tension. The fact of the matter is that real or not, the last half hour of ARGO is a fantastic display of tension that culminates in an emotional way that I quite frankly wasn’t expecting.
It is remarkable to me that I can be so head over heels for a film that doesn’t have a performance to nail the film down. ARGO is a marvel of tension and drama that’s slow in its setup to a series of set pieces that had my heart nearly beating out of my chest. Aflleck handles the film with such skill and subtlety that can make the last half hour seem a bit out of character to the rest of the film. Regardless, ARGO is easily one of the better movies of this year and one that I cannot wait to experience over and over again.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)