Act For Your Life
Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and now, Argo. Ben Affleck scores a hattrick with three acclaimed films that shows off his directing chops, and you'll probably find it tough to find anyone not convinced he makes a better director than in front of the camera as an actor. Producing the film with George Clooney and Grat Heslov, who did the award winning Good Night, and Good Luck, Argo is also based on history (with its fair share of dramatic licence of course) that uniquely combined Hollywood's role during the tumultuous times of the Iran hostage crisis of the late 70s to 80s.
With US-Iranian ties probably at one of its lowest points, the historical backdrop of this film provides a reminder of sorts to the escalation of conflict and how the US foreign policy of the time had set the agenda that sowed animosity for decades. It's also very much one sided, given that it's after all a Hollywood film, that provides perspective solely through the eyes of the CIA protagonist Tony Mendez (Affleck playing the role himself), an exfiltration expert, tasked to find the best amongst the worse solutions available in order to save the lives of six US diplomats who were temporarily holding up at the Canadian ambassador's house, with each passing day a day closer to them being found out, and possibly publicly executed.
There's the involvement of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) since their cover identities happen to be Canadian, revolving around a film crew who are in Iran to scout for locations for the titular science fiction space adventure, not to mention real fake passports obtained, and the provision of lodging for weeks of confinement and safe haven. And things aren't put in any positive light as well on the Iranian side, with the checkpoints along the way falling down like bowling pins without too much of a fuss or fight, and being none too smart in the way the treatment allowed for the inevitable outcome.
Like his previous film, Affleck crafts Argo with heist film tendencies, setting up the situation, the game play, followed by its execution, only for surprises to be kept to a minimum, but still having paced this with tension so high, you'll find yourself at the edge of your seat as the plan moved along at breakneck speed. Based on declassified material, some elements had literary liberty taken to spice up the plot, so it worked purely on the entertainment front, and not a substitute for a proper history lesson, which I suppose after this there should be a lot more interest in the Jimmy Carter administration's handling of the matters highlighted here. The inner workings, politicking and bureaucracy in various agencies from the CIA to the White House also gets its fair share of the spotlight
And let's not forget the more fun moments of the film where Tony Mendez had to act like a big shot in Hollywood, in setting up the bluff with special effects/costumer John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) in making their pre-production efforts believable in order to lend credibility to Tony's cover when he moves into ground zero and provide the necessary training for his principals to memorize, with the usual spanner thrown in the works that come from within the group, and from external forces so that this is no walk in the park. Spy versus spy movies are always full of sexier moments, but this one pared these down to be closer to reality, where operations boil down to meticulous preparation, good old fashioned hard work, politics and to buckle down and be ready for any last minute emergencies that may come your way.
Technically, this film grabbed me right from the start when the old 70s version of the Warner logo came up, together with great attention to detail paid in recreating production sets, wardrobe and even had its film quality made to resemble something coming out of the era, relying also on archived footage to lend that documentary feel to the retelling of the Canadian Caper, as it is known. The purposeful casting and makeup also made the supporting cast look uncannily similar to the persons they're portraying, adding a degree of realism as well. Production values remain top notch throughout, with an unobtrusive score provided by Alexandre Desplat, that lent a hand in accentuating the many moments in the final third of the film when the action for this high risk mission kicked into high gear.
I guess everyone everywhere just can't resist the allure of Hollywood, so it makes it easy to pull wool over one's eye. The production of Saint Jack during its time to snook the authorities here is testament to it, though here it had a greater degree of danger attached, and through Ben Affleck's steady directorial hand, makes this one of the best films this year to sit through. A definite recommendation!