I was only four when Iran fell to the Ayatollah and American hostages were taken, so my first memory of any of the events occurring around Argo was when the hostages were released over a year after, in January of 1981. What awareness I had was limited to joyful pictures of Americans returning home safely, and nothing of the unrest captured so vividly by Ben Affleck in his third and possibly best movie.
What I do remember is having the Star Wars sheets that were decked out on Tony Mendez’s son’s bed, and many of the action figures on his shelf (though mine were in far worse shape than his). And I remember the red and black Warner Brothers logo that is used to open the film. The whole movie has been crafted to evoke the late Seventies and early Eighties, it feels like the blockbuster Hollywood would have made in ’82 to celebrate a great victory, rather than one made in 2012 around a story that wasn’t even declassified until 1997. The pacing and style of the movie evoke the great work of Lumet, Pollock, or Frankenheimer, with the tension building around sharp performances and progressively increasing tension, rather than sharp special effects or auteurish camera angles.
Affleck has assembled an excellent cast of strong character actors, all of whom wear the incredible tension they were under differently. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are excellent as the Hollywood component of the story, but I was more impressed by Bryan Cranston and particularly by Victor Garber. Garber plays Ken Taylor, the Canadian diplomat who harbors the Americans. He conveys the righteousness of a man who knows what he’s doing is right with the anxiety of a man who also knows he’s endangering himself and his wife in the process. He gets no real bravado scenes, but really, none of the actors do. This is a collaborative effort, with no one performer stealing the show. The end result is a movie that feels like all of the pieces came together perfectly. It actually makes it difficult to write about, because no one element overshadows everything else. The direction, script, acting, all of it works perfectly.
A few years back Affleck’s friend and co-Oscar winner Matt Damon suggested the Academy Award films ten years after their release, to let the hype die down and see if they truly stand the test of time. Argo doesn’t need ten years. It can stand next to the tense thrillers of the Seventies and hold it’s own. Roger Ebert has already predicted this will win Best Picture this year, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he were proven right.