Affleck’s new film mixes comedy and drama to create a satisfying cinema treat
Review by David Streicher, ‘13
A portly man- a Hollywood makeup artist- sits in an office. Standing before his desk is a CIA exfiltration specialist. The meeting between the two is not a casual one. Between them is a proposal so outlandish, it might save six American lives. The agent looks squarely at the makeup man and says “I need you to help me make a fake movie.” The portly man looks up from his desk and says “You want to come to Hollywood like a big shot and not do anything? You’ll fit right in.”
Ben Affleck’s newest film Argo dramatically retells the events of the 1979 “Canadian Caper” rescue during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It introduces CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who is given the task of rescuing six American diplomats who had eluded capture during the crisis by hiding in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor.
Inspired while watching scenes from a movie taking place in a desert, Mendez creates a scheme to help the six escape by pretending to be the crew of a fake science fiction film titled “Argo”. Mendez enlists the help of producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and veteran makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to make his story believable.
For viewers unfamiliar with the history that makes up the premise, the film opens by providing the conflict’s background. In this respect, Argo manages to be fair, acknowledging the abuses of the Western powers as well as those of Iran. In fact, Argo’s attention to detail is strong throughout the film, deriving film backdrops from photos of the real events in Iran, including recurring scenes of a young woman translating announcements from the new Iranian government into English. Argo also makes use of real U.S. news footage and radio broadcasts to help create a feel of authenticity .
In directing Argo, Affleck deftly balances the duality of the humorous antics of Mendez’s “film crew,” and the dark tension of the Iranian revolution. On one hand, scenes of Mendez working with his Hollywood allies lend themselves to a plethora of humorous quips, such as Siegel’s trademark rallying cry, “Argo F- yourself!”
However, Affleck achieves an incredible air of dramatic tension through prolific use of closeup shots and louder-than-normal sound effects, such as locks breaking, cans clattering and crowds chanting. One strong juxtaposition is made in a montage between actors hired for the fake movie reading the script at a lavish party as a publicity stunt and American ambassadors enduring torture in the embassy basements. The pairing of scenes such as these illustrates the confusion and chaos of the period as well as the importance of Mendez’s mission. The inclusion of humor in what is largely a dramatic film may make Argo appear to lack focus, but it actually keeps the darker aspects of the story palatable and the overall experience enjoyable.
All is not perfect for Argo. Towards the end of the film, its atmosphere becomes its downfall, using cliched scenes to keep the tension high. But overall, Argo is well worth watching. It is dramatic and tense, but it has enough humor to keep the experience from becoming overwhelming. Argo is a reminder that even in bleak times, unlikely heroes can inspire hope.