Argo (2012) – Ben Affleck (Dir.), Ben Affleck (Narcissist), Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Victor Garber, the Smoke Monster from ‘Lost’
The USA is a funny thing. Not ‘Ha ha’ funny. Though, in its elemental form it has offered up such greats as Sarah Palin and Honey Boo-Boo, but it’s more the ‘Oh, that’s funny,’ that escapes your lips when you return from a long weekend away to find your wife in bed with your proctologist. It’s an oddity with a sick, sarcastic edge. As a nation, we’re one of the youngest on the world stage. Yes, governmental overhauls have occurred in numerous states around the globe, but we were conceived in such a precise and direct manner that our birthdate is coined and minted (literally). And, like the youngest kid on the playground, we seem to have managed to piss off each and every one of the other mutherfuckers there at some point. Granted, our clashes with Europe tend to be of the passive aggressive, changing the name of a favorite fried food sort; and our beefs with a good deal of Asian nations have either become utterly parasitic (a remora fish hanging from the side of the Great White Shark that is China) or totally bemusing (but then again, everything about Japan is totally bemusing). It’s the Middle East that is our Magnum Opus of Douche. If the Middle East were a hornet’s nest, we have managed to stick our dick into it so many times that, now, we just kind of accept that our national penis should be covered in pussy sores and masturbation should be a practice in not passing out. From regime changes to backing only one horse in an epic equine knife fight to literally invading a country for no other reason than, “Eh. We needed to invade something and everywhere else could fight back!” we have certainly fucked this beehive good.
There is a chapter of our continued apoidean tassle-wag that was key to the downfall of Jimmy Carter’s presidency and yet it isn’t particularly in the forefront of this younger generations minds. Turns out, back in the day, the US murdered an elected official in Iran for a multitude of reasons (read: oil) and installed a little meat puppet in his stead. Well, this meat puppet wasn’t particularly loved (probably due to the death squads and things of that sort) and so a student revolution swept the nation turning what was a politically liberal nation into one of deep Islamic conservatism. In the brutal change-up, the US embassy and all but six of its employees were taken hostage and tried for being spies. They were held in Iran, even after a miserable attempt at a Delta Force extract, for 444 days. That’s fucking right. 444 days. Now, you may know this, but being a lowly Brit, this kinda stuff isn’t covered in regular curricula. Well, this is where Ben Affleck’s brilliant film Argo begins and proceeds telling one of the most batshit crazy exfiltration plans in the known history of the CIA. It turns out that 6 lower level visa clerks managed to just sort of step out of the embassy as it was being stormed and, of course, sought shelter with the Can-eh-dian ambassador (an always wonderful Victor “I Built the Titanic” Garber). There they were trapped for around 3 months, waiting for the Iranians to have their sweat shop kids piece together images of their faces from mounds of shredded documents. Mr. Affleck, a man who has now proven that his career behind the camera is about ten billion times more successful than that in front of it (Gone Baby Gone vs. Reindeer Games. You do the fucking math), plays Tony Mendez who, though sounding like a porn star forced to come up with a fake name in a split second, was one of the CIA’s top exfil operatives. He devises a scheme to head into Iran posing as a Canadian film crew on a location scout for a fake sic-fi film and then remove the lost employees one hilarious facial hair mistake after another.
Now, here’s the thing about historical dramas. You know how they end. We know how Argo will turn out. This is not the tale of how seven Americans were round up in Iran and shot in the head. They just don’t make movies like that (unless it’s The Great Escape). Yes, spoilers, they make it out. There is no illusion there. However, it’s a testament to Mr. Affleck’s storytelling ability that this was one of the most stressful fucking movies I have ever seen. The logical section of my brain kept soothing the rest of my squirming self with sweet whispers of, “It’s okay, crazy Mooney! They survive!” but this fucking movie. It is perfectly crafted to hook you in and drag you along. From the intense assault on the embassy itself to the nailbiting interrogation in the airport (Literally nailbiting. I must have almost chewed my fucking hands off) the better half of Bennifer straps you in, locks you up and throws you down the fucking gauntlet. I’m not talking about any wimpy glove gauntlet here. I’m talking about a First Knight Richard-Gere-almost-skewered-on-a-machinated-death-trial-in-front-of-Sean-Connery mutherfucker. I don’t care how cynical or aloof you think you are, this tale is harrowing. HARROWING, I SAY. From the repeated shots of terrible 70s hair with people attached just wallowing and stewing in polite captivity, to the second half of Jenjamin’s constantly humorless grimace, you are always aware of the stakes, the characters, the dangers and the goal. And though there are a few filmic flourishes, Mr. Affleck has made it clear to the world that he isn’t here to reinvent the wheel. He’s not about to Cloud Atlas this shit up. No. He just mades good, solid-as-Ryan-Gosling’s-abs movies. It also helps that he apparently knows everyone. So, we are treated to the likes of John “Line in the Sand” Goodman and Alan “Read This in My Voice” Arkin along with flashes of the ridiculously named Bob Gunton, Richard “Un” Kind, and Bryan Mutherfucking Cranston. It’s a veritable feast for the eyes! And by eyes, I mean, ‘Acting Fanboy Boner’.
If I were to have any hangups with the film it would be it’s need to hang in the uncanny valley of historical accuracy. When offered a tale such as this, where many of the lead players are still alive and kicking, Hollywood has the task of trying to stick to the facts while also making it a movie. Affleck does well, for the most part. In fact, he even has shots of each of the cast members next to their real-life counterparts, proving that he did, indeed, recreate them fairly well (noted exceptions being Tate Donovan, that handsome man, and Clea Duvall vs. the homeliest woman I have ever seen). He goes so far as to recreate footage of the original assault on the embassy. There is one flaw in this plan. Ben Affleck looks nothing, NOTHING like Tony Mendez. In fact, the brilliant man with the plan or the ‘Latino James Bond’ looks more like an attractive version of Luis Guzman. All comparisons between the director and his character are conspicuously absent. They even worked in a shot of Affleck’s chiseled abs during the prep scene! Seriously, guys? Anyhoo, the other issue I take with it is that, though the ending is tenser than the only black man at a Georgian Civil War convention, it’s a complete fabrication. Of course it must have been stressful for those involved, but there was no chase, no interrogation and no battle of red tape at the White House. Affleck goes to such lengths to convince us of the tale’s factual basis, though he blatantly skews the action in favor of the dramatic. This is fine, I guess, because this is a movie and it isn’t ‘A True Story’ but ‘Based on a True Story’. It purports itself as a higher level film, operating above the level of other more bullish approaches to historical tales and yet this is an absolutely Hollywoodized vision of this story. Case and point: Ben Affleck is the lead. He doesn’t need to be. He’s fine. He isn’t great. He’s good enough. Most of the scenes shows him with a facial expression equivalent of soured Mayonnaise (you don’t like it, but you ain’t got another option). Couldn’t we have at least cast someone vaguely hispanic? Ben Affleck is whiter than a Bon Iver concert. There are good actors who are also hispanic out there in the world. Couldn’t we have given this one to them? Please? I mean, even Ben Affleck the director knows that Ben Affleck the actor is about as palatable as a boiled turnip. He ain’t offensive, but he ain’t doing much either.
But those are minor issues. If you are looking for a historical document, this isn’t it. If you are looking to hear Alan Arkin tell the dude from Scott Pilgrim to “Argo fuck yourself”, to shit bricks for about 30 minutes, to hear Bryan Cranston yell “Why can’t we find the Chief of Staff? We’re a fucking spy organization. FIND HIM” and to see the kid from Empire Records with a handlebar mustache that would make every pornstar ever very proud, then see this movie. It’s one of the best of the year. I just hope that, for future cinematic endeavors, Mr. Affleck can find better talent than the middle part of JeBennifer Affarner. Seriously, that guy hasn’t had a fucking career since Jersey Girl. Cut the fat, Affleck. There’s this really good actor out there. He’s been around a bit, but the guy is talented as fuck. He was in that one movie, Good Will Hunting, his name’s Matt Damon. I think you two would really get along. Anyway, that’s for another time. Everyone else. GO SEE ARGO RIGHT FUCKING NOW!