Argo (2012)


Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman
Plot: A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

Genre: Drama/History/Thriller

Awards: Won 3 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing. Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score.
Runtime: 120min
Rating: PG13 for language and some violent images.

The whole country is watching you, they just don't know it.”

Ben Affleck has reached a new level of maturity as a filmmaker in Argo, a film that is worthy of its Oscar buzz, and will surely be one of the nominees for Best Picture.  A nomination for Affleck for Best Director is less likely, but he is knocking on the right doors.

This is his best feature film to date, after making critics sit up with Gone Baby Gone (2007), his debut directorial effort, and wowing audiences with The Town (2010).  Well, I concede that I wasn't that impressed with The Town, but Argo sees Affleck back in fine form, and with much more tenacity.

He also plays the lead, Tony Mendez, a gruffly looking man who has the expertise in getting people out of extremely delicate situations.  His mission in Argo: To rescue six American diplomatic fugitives from the heart of revolutionary Iran.

His outrageous plan: To fool the Iranian authorities into thinking that he is accompanying a Canadian film crew working on a sci-fi epic in the country's deserts and landmarks back home.  The story is the stuff of great suspense movies, and Argo's re-enactment of the covert CIA-Canada rescue operation does not disappoint one bit.

The remarkable thing about Argo is that despite knowing how it will turn out, or how we think it will turn out, the film keeps us constantly on the edge of our seats with a consistently engaging pacing.

The film's effort to immerse us into its time and space is immense, with its incredible attention to period detail (surely an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction?), and Alexandre Desplat's brilliant, thumping score accentuating the film's potent Middle Eastern flavour.  The performances are not as riveting as expected, but Alan Arkin and John Goodman provide some outstanding supporting work.

Argo's climactic act is an excellent reason why we go and should still go to the movies.  Affleck's confidence in milking as much suspense as possible without appearing to try too hard flows into the audience.  The audience then reciprocates by not resisting being under the spell of the film.  The 'oneness' effect between film and filmgoer is most pronounced under a theatrical setting with a full crowd.

Argo works its magic in this kind of setting, as it taps onto an audience's anticipatory energy and builds the dramatic tension to unbelievably high levels.  It is quite simply one of the most nerve-wrecking films of the last few years.

Verdict: Ben Affleck reaches a new level of maturity as a filmmaker in this intricately-detailed and extremely tense dramatic re-enactment of a historical classified rescue mission. 

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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