Argo (Warner Bros. Pictures, R)

argo sqThe tense parts are thrilling. The satire is funny. Everything works seamlessly.

 

argo

Every once in a while, a movie comes out that so directly appeals to me as a viewer that it almost seems unfair for me to be the one writing a review of it. Ben Affleck’s Argo is one of those films. Every aspect of Argo is so firmly planted in my wheelhouse, I couldn’t be more biased if it were a film I had made myself.

Argo tells the true story of six diplomats who escaped during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador in Tehran. Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, who is tasked with figuring out a way to get the six diplomats out of Iran and back home safely, before they are found and captured or killed. The idea they finally land on is going in using the cover of a film crew scouting locations for a science fiction movie.

Allow me to count the ways in which Argo seems designed for me personally. I was in love from the first frame, when the movie opens with the retro, ’70s version of the Warner Brothers logo. Most period pieces these days will throw a character in an ugly sweater and some sideburns and call it a day, but Argo goes to great lengths to feel like a movie that was actually made in the seventies, which as far as I’m concerned was the best decade for movies ever. Specifically, the grain of the film and the desaturated color scheme really added to the feeling that this was a movie from that time. Objectively, I know that this looks kind of ugly, but it’s an aesthetic I absolutely adore.

Argo doesn’t just feel ’70s in its look, but also in its tone. The opening sequence shows a large crowd of rioters attacking the U.S. embassy in Iran. Stock footage is integrated in with the new footage and there is an intensity that feels almost documentarian, but in an All the President’s Men kind of way rather than a Paul Greengrass kind of way. That feeling continues as the CIA desperately searches for an answer to its problem.

Then the movie shifts to Hollywood, were Mendez wants to make the story of their fake movie as convincing as possible, to the point where they hire an actual producer to buy the rights to a script and hold a press conference publicizing their upcoming Star Wars ripoff, Argo. This segment introduces us to John Goodman, playing John Chambers, the makeup artist on the Planet of the Apes films, and Alan Arkin as the Roger Corman-type producer. These scenes feel like an upbeat comedy about Hollywood, and I dare you not to have fun.

Then after that brief sidetrack, we get back into the thriller, wherein Mendez is sent into Iran to actually execute this absurd rescue. The greatest achievement of Argo is that it manages to pull off these potentially whiplash-inducing tonal shifts without ever actually giving you whiplash. The tense parts are thrilling. The satire is funny. Everything works seamlessly.

As a longtime Kevin Smith fan, I’ve spent a lot of time defending Ben Affleck. I think I can say that I have been vindicated. Now people are over Pearl Harbor and Gigli, and a lot of that has to do with his directing career. Three movies in, we can say that he is officially here to stay. Gone Baby Gone was not just a fluke; he actually is a great director. The Town wasn’t quite as deep and moving as it thought it was, but it was still an excellent cops-and-robbers movie. Argo is his best film yet. I love this movie so much, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone I know. | Sean Lass

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