‘Argo’ Is Argo-ably Best Film of Year

Sal Polcino, El Vaquero Staff Writer

Argo is a spy-thriller that combines elements of drama, intrigue and comedy.

Ben Affleck’s third outing as a director may be his best yet. Affleck, director of critically acclaimed films such as “Gone Baby Gone” (2007), and “The Town” (2010), has taken a declassified file from the CIA and turned the real-life story into a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat film.

The film opens with a short history of events leading to the revolution in Iran using real documentary films juxtaposed with graphic novel style art — poignant and timely considering the situation in Iran today, where tensions and anti-American sentiment are mounting.

The era and the atmosphere are recreated accurately, the sets, wardrobe and even the haircuts. Much of the realism is provided by the cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto, “Babel” (2006). Prieto creates a dark atmosphere when the storyline takes them to Iran, colorful and fun when in Hollywood, and chaotic when in Washington at CIA headquarters.

In the first scene, viewers sense the tension and emotion as revolutionaries take to the streets of Tehran and storm the embassy. Affleck alternates documentary- style filming with state-of-the-art camera work: sometimes right inside the mob, other times aerial shots from a helicopter, giving the viewer the sense of actually being there as well as the over-all immenseness of the swarming crowd.

All great movies start with a great script and this one has just that. The screenplay, written by Chris Terrio, has everything movie-goers could want in a film. The dialogue is crisp and believable, especially when delivered by the award-winning ensemble cast. The plot builds to a seat-gripping suspenseful ending.

Who would think that the CIA’s daring rescue in 1979 of six people who escaped from the American Embassy in Iran during the hostile takeover by revolutionaries supporting the Ayatollah could be funny, but CIA special exfiltration operative Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) and his incredible plan prove otherwise.

The CIA puts together a wild scheme to get the six embassy staff members out of Iran, along with help from the Canadian embassy. The plan is to enter Iran under the guise of a film crew making a science fiction movie and leave with the escapees in tow. Even in revolution-torn Iran, everyone loves Hollywood.

The fun starts when the CIA enlists film makeup artist John Chambers, played by Golden Globe award winner John Goodman, to put a fake film crew together. Fun fact: CIA operative Chambers actually was a Hollywood makeup artist who won an Oscar for his work on the original “Planet of the Apes.” Go figure.

Chambers takes Mendez to Hollywood and introduces him to B-movie director Lester Siegel, played by Oscar winner Alan Arkin “Little Miss Sunshine,” (2006). Arkin’s character has some of the funniest lines in the movie including, “If I’m doing a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit.” Affleck provides the perfect straight- man to two of the best comic actors in the industry.

Emmy-winner Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) puts in a dramatic performance as Jack O’Donnell, Mendez’ supervisor and friend at the CIA and veteran actor Victor Garber plays the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor. Taylor may be the biggest hero of this story since he risked the lives of himself and his family to shelter the six escaped Americans in his home.

“Argo” will be one to watch at Oscar time this year for screenplay, cinematography, directing, best supporting actor for Goodman or Arkin and possibly best picture.

Run time: 120 minutes
Five Stars