Sunday, November 25, 2012

Argo frak yourself!

Okay I admit, Ben Affleck turned out to be a damn fine director.  Much ridiculed as an actor for such duds as 'Daredevil' (where he met his future wife) and 'Gigli' (where he almost but didn't), Mr. Affleck has turned his career around with three consecutive directorial efforts, two of which he starred in.  While 'Gone Baby Gone' showcased the potential he had and 'The Town' gave us a glimpse of his gritty Michael Mann side, 'Argo' proved beyond a doubt that he is here to stay and may actually net him a statue.  Ben Affleck and Oscar in the same sentence?  Has hell frozen over or what?  Alright, you can come out of Matt Damon's shadow now, Ben.

As you should know by now, 'Argo' is based on the true story of the 1980 CIA operation to smuggle six American diplomats holed up in the Canadian ambassador's home after they narrowly escaped from the US embassy when it was stormed by angry Iranian mobs in 1979.  I remember the incident, and the ill-fated Delta Force rescue attempt, well as a teenager at the time.  With the declassification of this operation in 1991 by then-President Clinton, this gripping story finally came to light. 

Affleck also plays Tony Mendez, the CIA's top 'exfiltration expert' tasked with extracting the six Americans in distress out of Iran.  No mean task, as Iran was gripped by waves of anti-American demonstrations and anti-Western sentiments.  As they rightly should be, since Shah Reza Pahlavi was one of the most corrupt and brutal dictators in the modern history of the Middle East.  So what did Mendez do?  He came up with a 'lame-brained' idea to use a movie as a front to get them out.  The faux-movie, named 'Argo,' is a B-movie rip-off of a popular George Lucas film that's not hard to guess.  In fact, the storyboards, posters, costumes, etc. mimic those of 'Star Wars' down to a "t," except 'Argo' is to be filmed in the exotic locale of the Middle East, of course.

Although 'Argo' lacks the testosterone-laden machismo of superspy movies such as James Bond or Jason Bourne, in many ways it is even more edge-of-your-seat riveting.  Ben Affleck, as the bearded Tony Mendez, was a believable and sympathetic hero, risking his life (if caught he'll be tortured and executed as a spy) even though he's a family man and knew the odds stacked against such a desperate mission.  Certainly, this was by far his best performance to date, leagues above his Jack Ryan in 'The Sum of All Fears,' Tom Clancy's CIA protagonist also previously played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford.  Filled with tension, suspense, and a good dose of humanity, 'Argo' is a well written, directed and acted tour de force, and should be a frontrunner in this year's Oscar race. it just me, or does Kerry Bishé (who played one of the six embassy staffers, Kathy Stafford) bear an uncanny resemblance to Leighton Meester?

Grade: A+


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