When the Academy Award nominees were announced last month, I made it a goal to try to see and review all nine films nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars were handed out. Well, we now have less than a week to go and I’ve got five films left.
Things are not looking so good for my, (not entirely,) ambitious plan. However, I’m going to make a run at it.
Today’s movie is Argo. Produced, directed by, and starring Ben Affleck the film is a riveting drama.. It examines what happens when the hard hitting life-and-death drama of global events intersects with the self-important and often silly world of Hollywood. However its real strength is its cohesive narrative, driven by an all-too-real sense of tension, that at times slips below the surface, but never relents. It’s an Oscar front-runner, and deservedly so.
Who’d have ever thought we’d ever be talking about giving an Oscar to the guy who starred in Gigli?
The film dramatizes events during the 1979 Iran Hostage crisis, focusing on the efforts of CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck), to smuggle six US diplomats (who’d escaped and been given refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador when the embassy was seized by Iranian student revolutionaries), by posing as a Canadian film crew scouting a location for a movie called “Argo“. The elaborate scheme requires recruiting a Hollywood producer, and genuinely starting pre-production on the film, (so their cover-story would hold water).
The first third of the film covers the conception and setup for the mission, it’s a story that is genuinely funny at times. However, the film’s greatest strength is the way that it maintains a sense of urgency, and rising tension throughout this section. This tone is established from the get-go with a depiction of the embassy takeover which I found to be one of the most uniquely terrifying scenes I’ve seen in a movie, as the diplomat’s mundane world is suddenly shattered as protesters unexpectedly crash the gates, and storm the embassy with hostile intentions. This tension is maintained as Mendez’s “so crazy it just might work” plan of organizing production on a fake movie is unfolding, by intercutting the Hollywood absurdity with the justifiable fear of the escaped diplomats, and their Canadian protectors.
On one level the film is a caper movie, and a globe trotting adventure, (the film gets extra points from me by setting an important transitional scene in Istanbul’s gorgeous Hagia Sophia.) What sets Argo apart is that it derives its tension from realism. The knowledge that the film is based on actual events provides part of that realism, but I’ve seen plenty of “based on a true story” films that, even if they’re well made, don’t feel particularly real. With Argo it is the way the events are presented that maintains the sense of real dramatic tension from beginning to end.
Argo is simply a unique and magnificent film, well worthy of the acclaim it has received. It is an absolute must see.