A Review: Argo (R)

by T. Jerald Sandberg

If the buzz around the all-knowing Internet is correct, and I believe it is, then two films are going to sweep the Oscars this year: Cloud Atlas and Argo. I saw the latter two weeks ago at the Wynnsong 12’s matinee showing. A small pitch for the Wynnsong at the Riverwoods Mall: if you’re a student, you should never pay full price for a movie when the Wynnsong discounts all tickets at $6.50 for any student with a valid school ID. But that’s beside the point; Argo on the other hand is the point. The film begins with a brief history of the events leading up to the 1979 American hostage crisis in Iran. In a tactful way, the intro divvies up an equal portion of blame to both sides, American and Iranian, effectively focusing the plot on the handful of characters involved in the extraction of six American escapees. The film does so without becoming too much of a political narrative (which, with all the heat surrounding what is today being called the Iranian Nuclear Crisis, is probably for the best).

Based on the true story and led by an all-star cast, Argo tells the story of one of the CIA’s foremost extractors, Antonio Mendez (Ben Affleck). Acting as Mendez’s supervisor, John O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) brings Mendez in on the operation and asks him to do what, at the time, must have seemed like the absurd, if not the impossible. Along with a charming pair from Hollywood, a popular producer named Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and an award winning make-up artist named John Chambers (John Goodman), Mendez is charged with the task of extracting the American escapees via the guise that they want to film a Hollywood Space Opera in Iran. Now who would ever believe the notion that an American film crew wanted to shoot a movie in Iran during the hostage crisis? I don’t know, but I presume it has something to do with not only America’s captivation but also the whole world’s captivation with American cinema. It reminds me of the conversation that always ensues when Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid is mentioned around my friends from home. Without a doubt, one of my friends, if not myself, will state what everyone by now knows: that parts of Butch and Sundance were filmed in and around our hometown of St. George, Utah. For some reason unbeknownst to me, it’s a source of pride for us and it doesn’t seem to be any different for the Iranians of 1979.

Because it proves it can elegantly maneuver around this unbelievable dilemma, Argo does what many films in its genre fail to do. It successfully weaves together a convincing thriller whose ending we already know and whose details seems far too absurd to be believable. And on top of that, it does so without stooping to the all-too-familiar thriller gimmicks of flash action and gore. For this reason, Argo will win Best Picture this year or at least runner up. By arranging tense scenes with expert precision, Ben Affleck has proven once again that he is not only a superior actor, but also a superior director.