Saturday At The Movies: Argo

When you think back to your childhood days, it’s funny the things you remember and the things you need to be reminded of.

For instance, I needed to be reminded about a visitation from family relatives that we had in our home when I was nearly ten years old. That visit lasted two weeks and sent sleeping arrangements into upheaval – not to mention family dynamics. But, at six years of age, I distinctly remember news reports stating that American citizens had been taken hostage in Iran – a faraway country I knew nothing about. It was many, many years later that I discovered that Canadians were actually involved in the event.

And that’s where the film Argo, released in North America on October 12, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, comes sharply into focus. Argo tells that story of the declassified Canadian involvement in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, better known as the “Canadian Caper”. It’s a riveting story that showcases Affleck as a solid leading actor but, more importantly, as an experienced filmmaker, brandishing his own cinematic storytelling style.

Argo previewed at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September, where I got a chance to watch it the sold-out historic Elgin Theatre alongside an enthusiastic crowd of Canadians.

Yeah, we cheered every time the words “Canada” or “Canadians” or “Canuks” or a city in Canada was mentioned. We laughed and clapped when the “eh?” expression was used. Argo, you see, tells the story of C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez and his desperate attempt, along with his handler (played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston), to get American diplomats, secretly hidden within the confines of the Canadian Embassy, out of Iran by using the most crazed cover story imaginable: the making of a Hollywood Sci-Fi flick called “Argo”.

Mendez (played by Affleck), under a fake name, impersonated a film producer visiting Iran during its 1979 revolution, to scout locations for a film. He brought fake identification and cover stories for the six American escapees. One would play the director of the film, another the cinematographer, while another would play the scriptwriter and so on. It was fascinating watching the set-up to this charade as Mendez needed to actually involve Hollywood industry types (played to great acclaim by John Goodman and Alan Arkin) to ensure everything was as real as possible. A real “Argo” script was actually purchased. Storyboards and posters were created. A studio lot was put together. There were cast readings and press junkets. Argo, the film, is as much an editorial of Hollywood as it is a telling of the American escapees. It’s a fascinating and enjoyable mix of political intrigue and comedic storytelling.

Argo, Affleck’s third long-form directorial achievement showcases his evolving visual storytelling ability. Long pans and tracking shots are fluid and evocative. Affleck can ably build tension with an interplay between establishing shots and progressive close-ups but, perhaps, most importantly, he has the ability to draw a real sense of character and humanism from his actors. This is best achieved in Argo through the use of comedy – even in the most dire of circumstances.

When Mendez is practicing their back-stories with the various escapees, one is supposed to hail from Toronto by way of Vancouver (instant cheers throughout the theatre). When quizzed on this, Mendez curtly tells his fellow American that his pronunciation is wrong. “No!” he says. “It’s ‘Torono’. Canadians don’t pronounce the ‘t’.”

It’s my favourite line in the film.

Some are suggesting that Argo could be up for Academy Awards this year, in both the categories of best film and best director.

I’m suggesting you go see this film when it’s released next week. It’s an enjoyable piece that educates us all on an aspect of our shared history that we might have forgotten or know only very little about.

Argo, directed and starring Ben Affleck, opens in wide-release on Friday, October 12.

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