GFS at the Movies: Argo

Argo (2012), directed by Ben Affleck

There was a time when Ben Affleck was an afterthought for me. He was affable enough and had some acting chops, but mainly I viewed him as an attachment to Matt Damon, and not much more. But here I am, several years after Good Will Hunting, Dazed and Confused, and — Lord help us all — Gigli, Daredevil, and Jersey Girl, and I might now be a legitimate fan of Ben Affleck. What sealed the deal was watching his latest film, Argo.

I’ve glanced at a lot of articles and reviews of Argo that take issue with the movie’s treatment of the real story — the so-called Canadian Caper — surrounding the rescue of six American embassy workers from Revolutionary Iran in 1980. They miss the point completely. It should go without saying that this is a movie, not a documentary, but I suppose people can’t resist the urge to show off how smart they are. The point for me is whether or not Affleck’s film is entertaining, not 100% historically accurate. And on that count, it absolutely is.

I’ve always said that the true measure of worth for any historical drama is whether or not you, as an audience member, can fully invest yourself in its characters and world even when you know the final outcome. I already knew that none of the American hostages died in Iran — although a failed rescue attempt in April 1980 did result in the deaths of Eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian — and yet the emotional part of my brain was having none of it. So complete was my immersion into the world of Argo that I behaved as if I knew nothing of the real hostage crisis.

The credit for that must go to screenwriter Chris Terrio, of course, but also director Affleck and the fine cast of the film. In particular, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, and Cora Lijek turned in outstanding performances. Really, though, just about every actor on this project was excellent.

I’ve also read reviewers saying Argo is a throwback to the ’70s, and that’s absolutely true. Not just because it’s a period piece taking place in 1979/80 — and the attention to detail on this front is worthy of note — but because it has the feel and story of a movie released then. The drama and tension are never sacrificed for any cheap resolutions or unnecessary diversions. The entire plot unfolds in an organic way that places the plot above all else. It’s a rock-solid drama that not only doesn’t feel overwrought and cluttered, but is damn entertaining.

I must make mention of one thing — of all the meticulously recreated props, costumes and sets in Argo, the thing I loved the most was the use of the old ’70s rolling Warner Bros. logo at the beginning. As soon as I saw that I knew Affleck and the film’s producers were not messing around.