With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.
Universal just set a bunch of release dates for some of their bigger upcoming movies. Are you intrigued? Yes, of course you are. Let's take a look.
Larry Crowne - July 1, 2011
Tom Hanks is directing and starring in this comedy-drama about the titular Larry Crowne, a middle-aged man who goes back to college when he is fired from his job. He smokes pot, joins the ultimate frisbee team, and gets into all sorts of hilarious collegiate hijinks. Wouldn't that be funny? No, actually he falls in love with his professor, played by Julia Roberts. Yawn.
Safe House - February 10, 2012
Denzel Washington is a hardened criminal (sure) and Ryan Reynolds is a young CIA agent (why not) in this action-thriller from Swedish director Daniel Espinosa. When a team of baddies destroy the safe house in which Washington is being held, the sardonic young Reynolds has to guide him to safety. It's like 16 Blocks, except Mos Def is Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis is Ryan Reynolds. And Washington won't have a speech impediment, hopefully.
Contraband - March 16, 2012
Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale are going to star in this remake of the 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavic-Rotterdam, in which the protagonist is a former smuggler trying to go straight, who gets roped in for one last job. Because there aren't already enough movies with this plot line, Universal is going to bring you another, and you're going to sit and watch it goddamnit. Baltasar Kormakur, who directed the original, will also be helming the English-language Marky-Mark version.
Untitled Judd Apatow Movie - June 1, 2012
'Untitled Judd Apatow Movie' is not the title of this untitled Judd Apatow movie, which is being written, directed, and produced by Judd Apatow. Or maybe it is? Has Judd Apatow's cultural relevancy reached such a point of critical mass that his only logical path now is to get all self-reflexive and make meta Judd Apatow movies about the process of making Judd Apatow movies? Maybe this will be a groundbreaking Charlie Kaufman collaboration. I would watch that.
The Bourne Legacy - August 3, 2012
Tony Gilroy will be directing the 4th installment of the Bourne franchise, which means Matt Damon won't actually be in it. Matt Damon told Universal he wouldn't star unless they brought back Paul Greengrass to direct. Universal laughed and decided to call his bluff. But no, Matt Damon is serious about not being in the next Bourne movie. And Matt Damon is Jason Bourne. So why are we still talking about this? Is anyone seriously interested in seeing a Bourne flick without Bourne in it? No? Okay then, moving on.
Ouija - November 9, 2012
Michael Bay's company Platinum Dunes is going to produce the hell out of this movie - as Michael Bay is want to do - with a rumored $80 - $100 million budget. Hell yeah! Enough with these pussy-footed $15,000 budget Paranormal Activity-type films. Anyway, this is a movie about a board game that people use to communicate with the dead.
47 Ronin - November 21, 2012
Keanu Reeves will star in this epic period film, based on the true story of a group of samurai in 18th century Japan who avenged the death of their master in a famous revenge-attack in 1702. Carl Rinsch, a promising commercial director we've had our eye on ever since we saw his very cool 2010 video short The Gift, will direct. Plus, Keanu is half Asian, so thankfully we won't have to deal with another brow-raising Tom Cruise-Last Samurai situation.
Snow White And The Huntsman - December 21, 2012
Tom Hardy (Inception) is rumored to be playing The Huntsman and Angelina Jolie the evil queen Ravenna in this reimagining of the classic fairy tale from spec scriptwriter Evan Daugherty. While I'm naturally skeptical of this project, The Playlist got their hands on the script and said it was "actually very strong, one of the better action-adventure scripts we've read in a while." Rupert Sanders will direct.
The Dark Tower - May 17, 2013
Oscar-winning director Ron Howard is set to helm the first of what Universal is setting up as a trilogy of films based on Stephen King's popular Dark Tower series, about the gunslinger Roland Deschain, who - long story short - sets out on a quest to find a tower-nexus at the center of his universe. This one's still a long ways off, but fans of the seven-book epic are already excited. You should be too, assuming Universal doesn't screw this one up. A TV series is also in the works.