Argo (2012) Film Review, a movie directed by Ben Affleck and starring Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Scoot McNairy, Chris Messina, Michael Parks, Kerry Bishe, Titus Welliver, Tom Lenk, Adrienne Barbeau, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, Clea DuVall, Michael Cassidy, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, and Taylor Schilling.
Argo was a film with three main focal points: CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), the US diplomats hiding in Tehran, Iran, and Mendez’s escape plan. Affleck’s film struck a deft balance between all three of these elements, shifting the film’s focal point at key moments to one or the other.
The most engaging sequence in Argo was the airport scene in the third act. For each obstacle the Mendez-led US diplomat group overcame, they then faced another one and another one. The writing prowess of screenwriter Chris Terrio came through in this act. Being the only “white” faces in the Iranian airport drew extra scrutiny and the amateur thespians squirmed underneath the pressure, bent but never broke. The surprise out of it all was Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy)’s performance. He captivated his Iranian airport interrogators with (Spoiler) words and visualizations of the plot of “Argo”, including Mendez. Stafford had argued from the beginning that the “Argo” plan was without real merit yet covertly deigned to memorize every aspect of it (neither Mendez or the audience knew), including its plotline in detail. (End Spoiler) It was a well-crafted moment by the director, writer, and cast members.
Through most of Argo, there was always a silent clock ticking that never fully let a scene exist by itself. This was another strength of Argo‘s tight script. There were a myriad of divergent forces working against Mendez and the US diplomats. These people were shown in a mixture of different scenes at different locations with key players ranging from children to military personnel. It was a snowball made out of incendiary materials that got larger and larger with the more “intell” they gathered. There were only three outcomes for the Mendez-led US diplomats if the compiled data was processed and utilized in time: discovery, capture, or execution.
Mendez projected confidence in most scenes, he had to, especially while in front of the US diplomats he was sent to rescue but when alone, the viewer saw that veneer crack. Mendez knew the stakes, even more so than the diplomats. As they said earlier in the film, “Argo” was the best of the bad rescue plans the CIA had come up with. The “bad plan” lived and died by what Mendez put into it, how thorough the plan was laid out, and performed. This led to the aforementioned “performance” in the Iranian airport in Argo‘s third act.
The other Hollywood aspects of Argo were the backbone of Mendez’s escape plan and also supplied the film with the majority of its levity. Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) had the lion’s share of the humor in the film while John Goodman delivered a drier variant and straight-man mentality when Mendez was not present.
The authenticity of the time period in which the film took place (November-December 1979) was subtle, it was the back-drop to the film, not a character in it like in Sidney Lumet‘s Serpico or Steven Spielberg‘s JAWS. The focal point in Argo was always Mendez, the US diplomats, and the escape plan.
The success of Argo was that there were no missteps by Affleck, none of note or recollection anyway. From the second to the third act of the film, there was an escalation of emotions and stakes for the US diplomats up until the moment the escape plan was enacted and the back-end machinations began. Like the diplomats, the viewer was nervous. Like the diplomats, there was fear of the unknown. Unlike the diplomats, the viewer could easily go home after the situation was resolved. The people in the film were playing for far greater stakes with no such safety net available to them.