“Argo” is like the best episode of “Mission: Impossible” ever filmed.
I swear I’m not disrespecting the Best Picture Oscar-nominated film, it’s based-on-a-true-story subject matter or its director and star, Ben Affleck.
But I had a real sense of deja vu while watching this smart and tense thriller of old episodes of the TV series, in which a covert operative would organize a team to pull off a mission in a foreign country. There would be assumed identities, disguises, bluffs, a trial run that went badly and a final gambit that looked to be falling apart before everything came out okay.
In “Argo,” Affleck plays a CIA agent who comes up with a daring plan: When the American embassy in Iran falls to militants in 1979, most of the staff is captured and held for more than 400 days.
But a half-dozen staff members get out and are hidden in the house of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Affleck goes in, posing as a Hollywood moviemaker scouting locations in Iran for a big-budget science fiction movie called “Argo.”
Before Affleck gets there, the CIA recruits two old Hollywood hands – the Oscar-winning makeup artist behind “Planet of the Apes,” John Chambers (John Goodman), and wry producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) – to make the movie look real. They put together a script, storyboards, cast performers and even stage publicity for “Argo.”
It all pays off in the end, as Affleck sneaks the embassy workers out of the country after convincing the Iranian military they’re only been in Iran for a couple of days to scout locations.
As enjoyable as the set-up, poking fun at Hollywood, is, the scenes set in Iran are tense and nervous-making. We know the outcome but we’re still absorbed.
Affleck and the actors playing the embassy workers do a good job, as does Garber as the brave Canadian politician.
Standout roles go to Goodman and Arkin, however. I just wish we got to see more of them.
A few random observations:
As a longtime movie fan, I would have loved to have seen more from the world of Goodman and Arkin’s characters. A prequel or sequel maybe? I’m serious. I would go to a movie watching these guys move through the fringes of Hollywood circles.
The movie does a great job of recreating 1979. Seriously, I forgot how damn big eyeglasses were back then. And the smoking – people smoke everywhere, including airplanes.
A lot of people talk about how many current movies are too long. At right around two hours. “Argo” feels too short, almost hurried. We were at the airport and the climactic moments almost before I knew it.
There’s been some talk that Affleck was “robbed” of an Oscar nomination and is seeing some cinema justice with other awards. He probably deserved a director’s nod.
There’s no comparison between this movie and another based-on-true-events spy thriller, “Zero Dark Thirty.” “Argo” is much more accessible, more crowd-pleasing and less morally ambiguous. I think I liked “Zero Dark Thirty” better, though.