Oddly the final film in our George Clooney retrospective doesn’t feature the star on screen at all but instead he served as one of the producers on the Best Picture winning Argo.
Argo was based on the hostage crisis in Iran’s American embassy in the early 1980s and more specifically the six ‘houseguests’ of the Canadian ambassador who’d fled their workplace just before the rioting took place. To get the six out of Iran, CIA operative Tony Mendez came up with an elaborate story to create a fake sci-fi movie, the titular Argo, and pass the Americans off as a film crew scouting locations in Iran. Clooney first learnt of this bizarre story after reading an article about it and so set about producing the picture. Clooney eventually hired Ben Affleck to both direct the piece and star in the role of Mendez; however Clooney himself would only be credited as a producer. Since we last saw him in Good Will Hunting, Affleck’s career trajectory had been precarious to say the least initially starring in several flops and being more famous for his relationship with Jennifer Lopez. However, in 2007, he began directing films and earned rave reviews for his first two features; Gone Baby Gone and The Town. His roles both behind and in front of the camera were equally impressive here as Argo was visually impressive and had a fantastic lead turn. As the film goes on Mendez turns to make-up artist John Chambers for help in creating the fake movie who in turn introduces him to veteran producer Lester Siegel. The scenes featuring Chambers and Siegel are where Argo turns itself into somewhat of a black comedy however the balance between these scenes and those of the hostages is excellent. In its third act, Argo becomes somewhat of a thriller as Mendez travels to Iran and attempts to extract the houseguests from Iran. This is easier said than done and I was personally on the edge of my seat to see if they would actually make it through the airport without getting rumbled.
It’s easy to see why Argo won Best Picture as it is both based on a real life story and features some lines that feel like they’d been written by a Hollywood insider. I was quite impressed with Chris Terrio’s screenplay which, as I previously mentioned, was well-balanced making the film feel both comedic and dramatic at the same time. One of the odd things about Argo’s presence at the Oscars was the fact that Affleck didn’t even get a look in when it came to the Best Director category. This is partly to do with the fact that not all of the directors of the nine nominated films could feature in a category which only honoured five film-makers. However, I do believe that Affleck’s fine direction of the piece should have at least received a nomination over say Tom Hooper’s helming of Les Miserables. Affleck himself proved to be a fine lead, here presenting Tony as the harassed everyman who found himself carrying out somewhat of an impossible task. Of the cast, only Alan Arkin was nominated for an Oscar for his role as sharp-tongued producer Lester Siegel. Indeed Arkin’s interplay with John Goodman’s John Chambers were some of the highlights of the film and I personally loved his rather foul-mouthed explanation of Argo’s plot. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography gave the Iranian scenes an extra sense of dread as he presented the siege at the embassy in a rather dramatic style. Argo managed to keep my attention due to its fine pacing and its mixture of Hollywood satire and edge-of-your-seat thriller. It also represents the fact that the Academy were selecting more interesting films to win Best Picture as I don’t think a film like Argo could ever have won the award twenty years prior. Whether its win was ultimately the right choice is an interesting debate and you’ll have to find out my verdict in my review of the most recent Oscar ceremonies.