Movie Review: The CIA Makes ‘Stars Wars’ (Well, Kinda)

A movie that everyone’s talking about, Argo, the newest film from actor/director Ben Affleck, is catching a great deal of early Oscar buzz and shockingly it’s justified.

I find it amazing that a decade ago, Affleck’s name was connected to such travesties as Gigli, Daredevil and the much maligned Pearl Harbor (which incidentally I kind of liked). His Academy Award that he won with Matt Damon for writing Good Will Hunting has been joked about on The Onion and Family Guy; his meteoric rise to fame in the late 90s was falling faster than it rose – and then he got behind the camera into a director’s chair. His first feature Gone Baby Gone stunned critics and audiences for the ease Affleck took to his new role, but his second film, one of my favorites in the past few years, The Town, proved he was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the camera.

Set in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Argo is the true story of the rescue of six American diplomats trapped in revolutionary Iran. The funny thing about this rescue is the cover the CIA uses in order to save these people. In the guise of a Hollywood producer, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) devises a ridiculous idea of posing as a film crew scouting locations for a Star Wars knock-off in Iran while subsequently giving new identities to the imprisoned Americans (the diplomats have to pretend to be on the film crew, too). Ably ported on the west coast by two Hollywood bigwigs, Alan Arkin (a producer) and John Goodman (an Oscar winning makeup artist), Mendez must throw all his support and faith behind this mission or the diplomats (and eventually himself) could be killed.

I couldn’t help but think of Apollo 13 when I was watching this film, another meticulously made modern American history rendered on film where you already know the results before they happen on screen. Like the astronaut movie, Argo is able to sidestep what the audience already knows and is still able to build up a compelling and nail-biting finale.

The late 70s/early 80s setting is perfectly captured; so much so that if it weren’t for the twenty-first century actors on screen you would think this film was produced at the height of the great 70s films that illustrated a topical event while still making it entertaining like The China Syndrome or All the President’s Men. Affleck obviously studied such films before he rolled the cameras on Argo.

While this third feature is not as joltingly alive or energetic as his previous, and best, film The Town, Argo is alive on many levels and displays Affleck as a talent constantly on the rise behind the camera. This is, like his last feature, one of the best films of the year and one that we’ll surly hear about more and more come award season, definitely in the categories of Best Picture and Director.

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