Argo (2012)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 2012.  Warner Bros., GK Films, Smokehouse Pictures.  Screenplay by , based on a selection from The Master of Disguise by  and the Wired Magazine article The Great Escape by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by Ben Affleck, .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Following the terminally ill Shah’s escape to America and Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power over a newly conservative Iran, Americans at the U.S. embassy in 1979 Tehran find themselves in grave danger. Crowds storm the streets, furiously demanding that the Shah be sent back to Iran to be tried, the mob eventually overpowering security at the Embassy and taking the employees hostage. Six staff members manage to escape, holing up at the home of the Canadian ambassador () and awaiting a safe escape, but the C.I.A. is at a loss as to how to get them out.

Enter rescue expert  (who also directed this fine, taut thriller), who comes up with the only solution he believes will work: give the staff members the cover story that they are a Canadian film crew in Iran scouting locations. In order to pull this off, Affleck needs to put an actual film into production, hiring the efforts of a mouthy producer (a terrific ) and Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (). Script readings are conducted, costumes are sewn, posters are made and storyboards are drawn so that by the time Affleck enters Tehran with six fake Canadian passports in hand, the pieces are all in place and the cover story is legitimate.   This doesn’t mean that the operation is secure or will go down smoothly, particularly when you factor in the shattered nerves of the people looking to escape, or the arguments amid levels of government back home.

Affleck avoids fanfare and emotional manipulation with this exciting work: the music never swells to a cymbal-crashing extreme, instead focusing on the endless series of tiny details that each have consequences. Eventually the saved-in-the-nick-of-time treatment that each plot movement endures gets to be a bit much (surely not everything was an eleventh hour success, even if truth truly is stranger than fiction), but the superb acting and smooth direction carry it through and this feeling of contrivance never compromises the experience.

Academy Awards:  Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Film Editing
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin); Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Original Score

Golden Globe Award:  Best Director (Ben Affleck)
Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin); Best Screenplay; Best Original Score

Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Motion Picture Cast
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin)

Toronto International Film Festival:  2012


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