Friday, October 19, 2012

'Argo' is year's most exciting thriller

Review by James Colt Harrison

Ben Affleck’s Argo is the year’s most gripping, heart-stopping thriller from beginning to end. The story is hard to believe, but the compelling aspect is that it is based on a true story that is now part of history.

During the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Teheran in 1979, it was an outrage when the Iranian government sanctioned thugs to invade the sanctity of the Embassy grounds and round up Americans. The 52 hostages were escorted out of the Embassy blindfolded and at gunpoint, not knowing their fate.

In the ensuing chaos of Embassy personnel trying to destroy files and coded messages, six Americans somehow evaded the angry crowds and escaped to the Canadian Embassy, where they sought refuge. Both the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) and the American government asked the CIA to intervene and get the six Americans out of Iran safely. They turned to their expert specialist Tony Mendez, played expertly by Ben Affleck, to come up with a plan to rescue them. The plan was for the six to pose as Canadian film makers on a location scout who would then simply be flown out of the country safely.

Screenwriter Chris Terrio said in a Warner Bros sanctioned interview  that “the structure of the film is a rescue, with people’s lives hanging in the balance. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s just a human story about people trying to do the best they can against overwhelming odds.” The film is based on the book The Master of Disguise by retired CIA agent Antonio J. Mendez and an article “The Great Escape” in Wired Magazine written by Joshuah Bearman.

Producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney were delighted when Ben Affleck showed interest in the movie at the outset. ”Ben has a wonderful sense of story and knows how to use the camera to tell it. He also has a strong point of view, which, as a filmmaker, is probably the most important thing. He understands how to build a climax and brought even more of a thriller aspect to ‘Argo’ than we envisioned,” said Heslov.

The picture isn’t just a thriller, but it is funny as well. “The humor was an important part of the script,” said Affleck, ”but it was the hardest line to walk. My main concern was making sue the laughs did not jeopardize the sense of urgency or realism. Luckily, we had Alan Arkin and John Goodman handling most of the comedy. They played every line with such integrity that the humor feels innate and never strains belief.”

Although the story is a rather far-out idea, it still had to be believable. Affleck continued with “It is not intended to be a documentary. As is always the case with a movie like this, elements had to be compressed and some dramatic license was taken because it is, after all, a drama. But we were very fortunate in that we could stay faithful to the spirit of what happened, because the truth of what happened was incredibly compelling.”

As the director, Affleck was also diligent about creating the times accurately. ”My main goal was that it all had to feel organic and not self-conscious,” Affleck explained. “ Everything from the sets to the clothes to the hairstyles had to blend into the background and also be unimpeachable in terms of accuracy.”

The handsome young actor/director had his final words to say about the movie. “It’s thrilling and suspenseful and scary, but it’s also funny and, I hope, entertaining. On a deeper level, it’s about the power of storytelling because for so long this story could not be told. But this is a moment when we can all be proud of what these people did.”

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