At the risk of offending someone, I must quote Mr. Arkin’s memorable line, “Argo f**k yourself!” See this gut-wrenching movie and you will understand its comic significance.
Ben Affleck is at best an average actor who has developed into an extraordinarily fine director. His evolvement in the latter category is truly sensational, and Argo is a first-rate film on multiple levels.
As an amateur historian, I have always been amazed how quickly we Americans forget the past. While gay marriage continues to be opposed by many Americans, including Mitt Romney and his crowd, it is forgotten that interracial marriage was banned until a Supreme Court ruling in 1957. Why do those who oppose President Obama ask, “Are you better off than you were four years ago” without acknowledging that President Bush was in office 4 years ago.
This forgetful trip through recent history is precisely what makes Argo so emotionally powerful. It not only focuses on the Iranian hostage crisis which spanned 1979 through 1981, but it specifically zeroes in on the rescue of six Americans who were secretly hiding in the Canadian Ambassador’s home. Despite knowing the ending, tension mounts throughout the film, and many will be left with admittedly sweaty palms by its conclusion.
Before going further, Mr. Affleck deserves a great deal of praise for his work. He not only recreates the stunning rescue through the use of largely unknown actors, but he incorporates actual television footage of the moment. You see Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel as they appeared at the time, and as a result the whole film takes on the feeling that it is actually happening today.
Mr. Affleck also pays attention to the horrible habits of Americans in the late 1970’s. Nearly everyone smoked, frequently. This not only included offices, but any place on an airplane. In addition, the viewer is reminded of how Godawful we dressed back then, which made everyone look like they were trying to appear in a Bee Gees’ movie. How could we have worn those God awful large glasses?
While Mr. Affleck is also the star of this film, playing a CIA agent who enters Iran posing as a Canadian film maker, his character does little more than appear studiously serious. Mr. Affleck is good because he is asked to do very little, and his movie benefits as a result.
Let me state again that it is Mr. Affleck’s role as a director that earns him kudos, and his skill was clearly displayed in recent films like Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010). I think it can honestly be said that he has found his niche not in front of the camera, but behind it.
Clearly, Argo works because of the life threatening drama unfolding in Iran. The six Americans’ lives were on the line, and it required an heroic effort to keep their sanity. The Canadian Ambassador and his wife were instrumental in their survival, and it would be helpful if we remember that we owe that country a sincere debt of gratitude.
But there is a surprise to this film that raises it to a cut above most historical films, and that is found in the performances of Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Both play Hollywood executives who helped Affleck develop a backstory for his fake film to be displayed to the Iranians, and these two Hollywood veterans are as caustic as the industry they inhabit.
Mr. Goodman plays a Hollywood mover and shaker by the name of John Chambers, and he is as marvelously funny as he was in last year’s Oscar winner The Artist, as well as the two Coen Brothers’ classics, O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) and The Big Lebowski (1998). I can’t think of a film that hasn’t benefitted from his presence.
Mr. Arkin appears here as Lester Siegel, an aging Hollywood semi-mogul who is as cynical as he is devilishly profane. When asked to simply write a fake script, he insists that he would only do so if it is also considered a fake hit. He is the impolite uncle that parents never allow around kids.
Affleck’s wonderful film rediscovers the true meaning of the phrase “cinematic thriller.” On the other hand, while everyone is progressively on edge, including the audience, Mr. Arkin delivers the immortal punchline that will be remembered for a long time.
Searching for a phrase that he, Goodman and Affleck can use as a code, he proudly announces, “Argo f**k yourself!” It’s as funny as anything he touched as the dying grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and his bit of irreverence helps make Argo a colossal cinematic experience.