I saw this year's Best Picture winner late in the game, after it was reissued at my local theater. Usually from my viewing experience, the Best Picture winners were always a little too artsy or formulaic for me to really enjoy. I'm thinking in particular of The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech, which were both excellent movies but I failed to connect with on an emotional level. Thus it surprised me when Ben Affleck's political thriller Argo took home the most-coveted film award. I was sure that Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, or Amour would win the big prize. So sitting in the theater, with the opening titles appearing on the screen, I was not sure what to expect. Argo went beyond what I thought would be a pleasant surprise, it was indeed a masterpiece.
Can I rant about the actors for a minute? Thanks. I always admire when a filmmaker puts so much time into a movie that it becomes his own. Ben Affleck is a perfect example with this film, as he worked on both sides of the camera as the producer, director, and star of the film. It has been realized in recent years that he has become one of Hollywood's foremost talented directors, having already made films such as Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone, and The Town. And it was also a huge shock to see Bryan Cranston with hair and not cooking crystal meth...those who are scandalized by that last part apparently haven't seen Breaking Bad. And the rest of the cast are familiar with Best Pictures as well--John Goodman was in last year's winner The Artist, and Kyle Chandler also starred in this year's nominated Zero Dark Thirty. I also should mention here that Alan Arkin did a fantastic acting job, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor...however I am a big Christoph Waltz fan, so I satisfied with those results at the Awards. Also, there were so many creative teams behind the scenes of Argo, the music and sound editing being two of the most noticeable. The audio track brought about so much of the suspense needed in the film, ravaging the audience for two hours before finally bringing a huge sigh of relief and triumph with the score of the concluding scenes.
For those of you that have still not seen Argo, it is the story of a very real true story: the American hostage crisis in Iran, which took place from 1979 until 1981. The film follows the actions that CIA officer Tony Mendez (Affleck) took to save six of the many American embassy hostages in Iran, who were given shelter in the home of a Canadian ambassador. After talking and arguing with many government and Central Intelligence Agency directors, he convinces them of his plan: to get into Iran under the guise of a director of a sci-fi film and have the hostages pose as his crew. With the help of Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (Goodman) and his supervisor Jack O'Donnell (Cranston), he works with Universal Studios to buy the rights for a science fiction screenplay "Argo," and holds press conferences, cast recordings, and readings of the script to further authenticate his cover. It's no spoiler to say that after much deliberation and suspense, Mendez brings the American hostages home...
...to Canada. Back to my thoughts. The conclusion of this film is what makes it so wonderful, because after all of his work for America, the CIA, and the safety of his fellow men, Mendez is forced to seal his lips about everything he did, and his decoration by the U.S. government was given under strict confidentiality. At the end of the movie, Jack O'Donnell says to Mendez, "[President] Carter says you're a great American." To which Mendez asks, "A great American what." O'Donnell's response was, "He didn't say." Whether or not the film was completely accurate to the real-life events, the figure of Tony Mendez is a great American hero unlike any other: one who is willing to stay in the dark while other men and other countries took the credit. It wasn't until 1997, sixteen years after the operation, that the operation was declassified and Mendez, Chambers, and many others were publicly awarded for what their actions.
Leaving the theater, I felt a satisfaction that used to only rarely occur for me. However, 2012 was such a great year for movies that I had that satisfaction many more times than I thought possible. But with all these wonderful films, Argo stood out from the crowd for me. A great tale of honor and suspense, it will surely become one that is remembered. I encourage everyone to take some time to watch it and experience it for the brilliant piece of storytelling that it is. If only more Best Picture winners had the heart and emotion of this one.
Heart and emotion are one thing, of course, but adult content is another, and unfortunately this film had probably around twenty F-bombs in it; I lost count after ten. There were no instances of blasphemy, but there was one scene that was a little immodest, though not in a racy way. So, while I don't think this is a deal-breaker, it is definitely something to be aware of before you go see it.
For its great cast, directions and excellent storyline, I give Argo a 2.5 out of three.
Review by Goldenmouth