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Affleck Shines in ‘Argo’

Kevin Noonan | Monday, October 22, 2012

At equal turns darkly comedic and chillingly suspenseful, “Argo” brings vividly to life the little known story of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran in 1979 in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis.

The film, released Oct. 12, stars Ben Affleck (who also directed and produced) as Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA agent who orchestrated the escape of the Americans under the guise of being a Canadian film crew scouting filming locations for a science fiction movie titled “Argo.”

The audience knows the outcome going into the theater, but that didn’t matter to people sitting on the edges of their seats in genuinely concerned, “you could hear a pin drop” silence for the majority of the film.

This film sees Affleck on the director’s chair for the third time in his career, and once again he shows impeccable talent at masterfully recreating the feel of the environment in which his stories take place.

In 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” the destitution of the downtrodden Boston neighborhood and the underlying problems with which it’s riddled.

Affleck’s 2010 bank robbery thriller, “The Town,” again illustrated an impoverished Boston neighborhood, but this time painting a picture of the kill-or-get-killed nature of those residents who managed to rise above it through crime.

“Argo” may be Affleck’s first venture out of his hometown, but it is also his best effort to date at creating a textured portrait within his film that goes beyond just the characters on screen. Tehran in 1979 was a city in upheaval, and the storming of the American embassy and the hostage crisis that ensued was in many ways a boiling point in Iran of years of oppression by a cruel leader and anti-American animosity.

The film’s opening scenes depict this chaotic, mob-induced storming and this along many scenes throughout the movie depicting various scenes of anarchy and fear, including firing squads in the streets, gives the audience a taste of the pure terror that defined the American embassy workers’ lives after the complex was overtaken.

The main characters are colorfully displayed in the film, and the performances behind them bring the story to life. Bryan Cranston plays Jack O’Donnell, Mendez’s boss who works frantically in Washington D.C. to make sure all the pieces come together, including some tense and explicit conversations with highly ranked White House officials. John Goodman plays John Chambers, a real-life Hollywood makeup artist who frequently worked with the CIA over the course of his career, and teams up with veteran producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, to create the fake backstory of the sci-fi film.

Goodman and Arkin provide much of the comedic relief of the film, showing the gilded nature of Hollywood in the 1970s. The film provides an interesting contrast in this sense, pitting the flashy, hedonistic character of Hollywood, and by extension America, at the time against the stark, violent reality of the upheaval in Iran going on at the same time.

Though these core characters are well developed and feel very real, the film is held back the slightest bit by the sheer number of characters involved. In addition to those main players, there are the six Americans on the run, their Canadian hosts and a seemingly countless number of names and faces involved in the escape plan. The result is the lack of development of some of the key components of the story, especially the six American diplomats.

Additionally, as this is “based on a true story,” its historical inaccuracies have drawn further criticism. Namely, though the film succeeds in not falling into the trap of being simply American propaganda, it downplays the involvement and risk undertaken by other nations in order to pull off the rescue, especially Canada, Britain and New Zealand.

Overall, though, the film wholly succeeds in capturing the story and historical context of one of the most creative and daring rescue missions in American history, and is definitely a must-see.