By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
If one measure of a great film is its ability to help you escape reality and completely consume your attention, then Argo is a great film. I was having far from a good day when I caught Ben Affleck’s latest stellar directing effort, but for a couple of hours at least, Argo had me completely in its thrall.
Of course, by that measure, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is truly great
Argo tells the recently declassified story of a CIA mission to rescue six embassy workers hiding out in the Canadian ambassador’s home during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. The only way out was through the Tehran airport, and the only plan with even a slight chance of success was… create a fake Canadian/Hollywood sci-fi coproduction location scouting in Iran? Yes, apparently.
Right from the first shot of Iranian demonstrators burning an American flag and marching in front of the Tehran embassy, Affleck manages to create palpable tension. You can feel the fear and imminent violence as clearly as the characters do, and Affleck is able to maintain this throughout the film. However, this is also one of the funniest movies of the year. The fact that Affleck can balance masterful humor and tension without detracting from either is why, for me, Argo announces him as one of the very few best American directors working today.
Yes, I’m serious. This guy.
He has plenty of help in this effort from his deep and across the board excellent cast. John Goodman and Alan Arkin, playing the Hollywood insiders who aid CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Affleck himself) in setting up his fake film, handle the brunt of the comic load, delivering consistently hilarious one-liners whenever they’re on screen.
Affleck and the always stellar Bryan Cranston, playing his CIA boss, both get to do their share of scene-stealing, and Scoot McNairy is the standout among the embassy workers. It’s rare to see an ensemble this large all playing at such a high level. I have to give a final nod to the seamless integration of period footage and shooting techniques and a script that is able to juggle that humor and tension while still delivering a well-rounded viewpoint for all involved.
The one downside is while the puppet show is undeniably entertaining without, sometimes you can see the strings. Some of the situations used to ramp up the tension border on the manipulative or credibility-straining, and the family man ending was a bit cliché. This is unlikely to hurt your enjoyment the first time around, but it’ll be interesting to see how this one holds up on repeat viewings.
Namely, how many times you can hear “argofuckyourself” before you’re tired of it
Ben Affleck balances drama, humor, and thrills like a master. One of the best films I’ve seen this year.
Take a Drink: every time you see an American flag
Take a Drink: any time you see or hear a media source
Do a Shot: for Argofuckyourself
Stick around through the credits to see photographs of the real people and situations from the film and marvel at the job of the casting and hair & makeup departments.