Review of Argo
The rage that introduces Argo is palpable. Director Ben Affleck, with his illustrated intro wants the audience to know that the resentment Iranians feel is justified for the back alley international oil poachers that rid the struggling country of democratic leaders who want the same for their country as any progressive leader would want for their own. The rift between the two countries, Iran and the United States is just as real today as it was thirty years ago, and the question that Affleck must answer is whether idealism abroad can survive after a century of resentment.
Stock footage of the hostage crisis was used effectively. The U.S embassy staff seek refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s house and wait for a sign of relief. At first the CIA have a preposterous idea about using bicycles to get them out of hot water, but specialist Mendez, portrayed by Affleck himself scoffs at the idea and hits upon inspiration watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes with his son. “The bullshit business: it’s like you work as a coal miner—you come home and you can’t wash it off” says Lester, the producer of the fake film behind the plan to rescue the foreign staff.
The behind the scenes carnival of Mendez’s rushed campaign in L.A have the same tongue-in-cheek as Boogie Nights, which glorified the pornography industry of the 70s and 80s. Here as well as there, there are industry men that cry foul that the industry is turning away from the art in favor of the blockbuster, or in Boogie’s case, in favor of video over film production. As suspenseful as the film may be, there are moments of levity that balance out the drama.
Running parallel to each other, the Hollywood script reading and the international tumult reveal that the stage is set, and only if Mendez can buy some time with his plan will the innocents abroad have a chance of living to see another day. Right before Mendez meets with his head operatives, his boss tells him, “Brace yourself, they’re like the two old fucks in the Muppets”. When Mendez arrives in Iran, the leader of the embassy staff puts the plan succinctly, “it’s theater of the absurd”. The scenes through the bazaar are powerful and well-directed; Affleck gets the most out of the American actors as well as the Middle-Easterners, especially from an irate old Iranian who finds fault with the production company troupe.
It is common knowledge that actors turned directors afford a wealth of understanding from their own actors, nowhere is this more clear in the film than the part Bryan Cranston and John Goodman play; both add layers to their performance and Affleck would do well to use them on future projects.
Finally the best line in the films warms even the most stoic of hearts: “Ladies and Gentlemen it is our pleasure to announce that alcoholic beverages are now available.”