Argo Review (DVD): It’s the Director, Not the Actor
If Tropic Thunder was serious, it would be a lot like Argo. Better yet, where Tropic Thunder utterly triumphed with its comic homage to Vietnam War movies, Director Ben Afflecklikewise triumphed in his dramatization of a top secret operation successfully guised in one of the most ridiculous extraction scenarios I have ever heard – in books, film, comics, anime, manga, or video games.
Argo’s story is based on the book The Master of Disguise by Tony Mendez, where the CIA operative told the incredible story of how he extracted six escaped US embassy workers from the house of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran in the Iran Hostage Crisisthat began on 1979. In the film, Affleck takes on the role of Mendez, working with the CIA to resolve the time-sensitive situation in Iran. Militants have overtaken the US Embassy and have taken its employees hostage, demanding the extradition of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who sought and received asylum from the US. Unbeknownst to the militants, six embassy workers escaped and found refuge in the house of the Canadian Ambassador.
But with the US embassy under militant control, it’s only a matter of time before they find out that they’re missing six hostages, and they can easily find out what they look like once they reassemble the shredded documents in the embassy. Tony Mendez is consulted by the CIA for an exfil mission, but without viable alternatives he finds inspiration in the most unlikely of places: Hollywood. The mission was to fake a big budget movie and claim that the six embassy workers are part of the Canadian film crew scouting a location for a Star Wars rip-off that was to be titled “Argo” (which means Argo F*ck Yourself, apparently).
The 1970s to 80s look and feel of Affleck’s masterpiece is absolutely authentic. The production team probably took every effort imaginable short of using CGI to make every scene as authentic and nearly identical as possible to the events of the Iran Hostage Crisis. The script was realistically gritty and unapologetically blunt, which works wonders for a movie that had so many chances to fall flat and become boring. But it didn’t, which is perhaps a testament to Affleck’s directorial talent.
Unfortunately, I can’t say much about his acting. Nearly all the other people in the supporting cast acted out their parts beautifully, but Affleck’s own rendition of a tired, troubled Tony Mendez wasn‘t noteworthy. I haven’t read the book but in the movie, Mendez’s character had the chance to develop depth and a touch of drama due to a domestic issue between him and his wife. The film wanted to portray a husband who had lost his way in his relationship with his wife, a father who would miss his son’s birthday in exchange for a secret, nearly thankless (and impossible) mission to save the lives of six people he never even met, and a CIA agent who never gave up regardless of the odds stacked up against him. It succeeded only on that last part.
Worse still is that because the personal / domestic struggle didn’t pan out to be as powerful as possible, the reunion between Mendez and his wife also didn’t work. That was supposed to be his redemption. He came back alive and now he wants to piece his own life back together. But you won’t feel any of the weight behind the scene. Since I’m on a roll griping here, I might as well voice my concerns over the audio of the DVD. It was a bit too realistic, perhaps sacrificing a bit of audio clarity. Nothing a bit of tweaking of the sound settings can’t fix, but still. The sound track didn’t do much for the movie too, I’m afraid. It’s all about the visuals and the scenes, but in these facets, Affleck’s directorial vision shone through brilliantly.
The militant siege of the US Embassy was very well done. The reading of the Argo script interspersed with the scenes of the plight of the embassy prisoners and escapees was a perfect illustration of irony and portrayed both the light-heartedness and the gravity of opposite situations very effectively. And the chase scene, which didn’t actually havea chase, was more heart-poundingly visceral and seat-gripping than anything an actual action movie could deliver. Everything happened in the last second. The tension was nearly palpable and the apprehension tangible up to the moment the plane carrying Affleck and the six escapees successfully left the airport, with armed Iranian soldiers following hot on its tail. A wonderful, breath-taking climax to a true story that is indeed stranger than fiction.
The DVD itself has a number of special features worth taking a look at – especially for history or military conflict buffs. Additional footage and commentary well supplements the film which is really only a small slice of the conflict that was the Iran Hostage Crisis, which in itself was only a part of the Iranian Revolution. Ben Affleck definitely outdid himself here as a director, but not as an actor. But that’s all it takes, really, to create a stunningly powerful film that viewers will be thankful for after leaving the cinema – or in my case, my movie seat at home. [by G Dino]