Doubtless you’ve heard of Argo by now: Ben Affleck‘s new film where he plays a CIA agent who works with Hollywood producers to make a fake sci-fi movie (Argo) that’s allegedly shooting in Iran. All so that he can rescue six Americans who escaped the embassy during the Iran Hostage Crisis and are hiding out with the Canadian ambassador. It sounds funny and sharp and intense, and it’s getting tons of Oscar buzz. We’ve checked out all the rave reviews to break down the reasons why it’ll be getting plenty of awards and maybe even a few statuettes come January.
1. It’s actually based on a true story. As we learned from Won’t Back Down, we can’t emotionally engage with a story if the drama is all based on something as banal as a law. Thankfully, this premise is deliciously “you can’t make that shit up” levels of true. The CIA really did team up with movie producers to concoct an entire fake movie to save six lives. Of course, some details have been overexaggerated, and several reviews take exception with details from the true story that didn’t make it in. Check out this analysis from NPR, but beware of spoilers.
2. It’s set in the past, but it still rings true now. Hollywood does love a period piece; consider the runaway success of the last two Best Picture winners, The King’s Speech and The Artist. Yes, Argo is very much a late-’70s/early-’80s film, but because you level with the characters, the motivations and plot developments don’t seem so alien. Roger Ebert highlights one particular sequence in his review: “One of the most enchanting scenes has Mendez [Affleck] showing the sci-fi storyboards to Iranian authorities, who try their best to conceal what movie buffs they are. At the end of the scene, when Mendez tells them ‘you can keep em,’ they’re like kids being given an E.T. poster by Steven Spielberg.”
3. There are tons of recognizable stars. CinemaBlend points out that Argo succeeds in having a cast of familiar faces—not in the same in-your-face way as an Ocean’s Eleven movie, but more that each time an actor pops up, it’s a pleasant surprise. ScreenRant credits the six actors with balancing out Affleck and making you care about what happens in Tehran: “‘The Six’ could’ve been empty MacGuffins, but a smart collection of familiar-face actors manage to turn each member of the imperiled half dozen into someone worth caring about.”
4. Ben Affleck doesn’t upstage the story. Critics seem pretty unanimous that Affleck has yet again pulled off a superb film where he both directs and acts, without dropping the ball on either. But part of how he succeeds as one of the film’s stars is that he doesn’t let his star power overshadow the action. Says The New York Times, “His own delivery can be so tamped down that he sometimes registers as overly restrained, almost bland, yet his control serves the material, partly because it would have been a mistake for him to try to upstage this story, much less Mr. Goodman and Mr. Arkin.”
As for his directorial skills, the LA Times writes, “Affleck’s abilities start with an instinct for storytelling, for always moving the action forward while never losing track of the need to keep events convincingly realistic.”
5. It thrills and tickles you. Not surprisingly, the movie-within-a-movie conceit works wonderfully with audiences. There are tons of meta jokes at Hollywood’s expense, and the sequences where John Goodman and Alan Arkin take fake meetings are hilarious. Multiple reviews report that the Tinseltown bits are roaringly funny, but then the mood will immediately turn somber as the audience takes in the full danger that these Americans are in. And apparently the climax is a nail-biter.
Photo: Warner Bros.