Directed by Ben Affleck
If you set Argo against the year’s two most acclaimed films, you will see that Ben Affleck’s latest has neither the whooshing scope of Lincoln nor the brave charisma of The Master. In fact, if you take any aspect that might interest you in art and then ask yourself whether Argo has it, you will say that yes, maybe, but then [insert something relevant from 2012] certainly outstrips it in that sense. So no – it’s not an outstanding film. Or, if you are into that word, a stone-cold ‘classic’. And yet: Argo is tight, smart, exciting filmmaking of highest order.
Argo is something of a political thriller, and whatever you might think of the unexpected praise it’s been getting lately, you have to admit that political thrillers rarely get more effective (Zero Dark Thirty was effective, but it had too little to offer outside of its raid scene) and, well, oddball than this. Plus, it keeps you on edge, which is what good thrillers should do.
The oddball factor is of course the key to the film’s current success. It’s not just politics, you see, it’s also a great deal of entertainment. This is not just a story of trying to rescue several US diplomats from Tehran (real events that happened in 1979), this is also about a quirky, fake film project called ‘Argo’ (‘best bad idea’) that was invented to cover up the ‘smuggling’. It is true that few can do oddball as convincingly as Alan Arkin and John Goodman, both of whom bring the offbeat charm and humour the film needs. One could of course make a point that without those two Argo would have ended up a very dry and faceless place indeed, even despite the irresistible premise. In the end, though, we got what we got: a political film that doesn’t want to take itself too seriously. And totally succeeds at that.
A word about the ending. While that was the sort thing we had to expect, obviously, I still wish they’d gone for something less smooth and lazy than that. Otherwise, it’s just about perfect. Forget about the Oscar hype. Argo is simply a good film. ‘Good’ as in ‘great’.