The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 19, 2012

Is ‘Argo’ as good as they say?

By Roger Thomas for the SNAP

Monday, November 19, 2012 — Pretty early on, I was reading that “Argo” was a strong Oscar contender. This was the film to beat. Movie critics, who often get to see the films long before the rest of us, before even the prestigious film critic of the SNAP, were all abuzz about this funny, suspenseful, highly political, true drama about the attempted rescue of six Americans trapped in Iran after the fall of the United States Embassy in late 1979. But I have been disappointed before. There have been many films touted as Oscar-bait through the years that I ultimately found lacking. But the good words continued to build, so I went into the theater very hopeful.

Before I tell you what I thought about the film, let me take a moment to write about the director and star Ben Affleck. Back in 1997, Affleck won his first Oscar for co-writing “Good Will Hunting” with his long time friend Matt Damon (They had a great acceptance speech that night). In 2007, he directed his first film which I think is nearly a masterpiece, “Gone Baby Gone.” It is a story of kidnapping which earns its R-rating and asks some deep moral questions. Two years later he directed “The Town”, which received a great deal of praise and was a satisfying film but in my opinion a lesser film than Affleck’s first effort. Flash forward two more years to the present and Affleck has delivered “Argo,” his best film and the best film of 2012 thus far.

Where to begin? This is a very serious film about a very serious time in our nation’s history. I was in high school when these events took place and so many images in the film brings back memories of that very uncertain era. Though the story at the center of this film was not public knowledge at the time, all Americans were aware of the hostages who spent over a year in the embassy. The film is history and drama. And in many moments the tension is as great as any horror movie; Affleck’s direction creates this suspense.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of humor in the film and almost all of it works extremely well. There are moments that are reminiscent of that great political comedy “Wag the Dog.” John Goodman and Alan Arkin are primarily responsible for most of the best laughs, but one has to give credit to director Affleck who balances all of this perfectly, the suspense, the drama and the comedy.

With the recent tragic events of Libya still so fresh on all of our minds no matter what our political flavor, watching “Argo” is a poignant reminder that there are those in the past and present around the world who risk their lives serving in our embassies for the good of our nation and our planet. Lest we ever forget, the events of 2012 and 1979-80 are two reminders of the great sacrifices of many. Beyond the tension and the laughs, “Argo” is about service, serving one’s nation in spite of risk, often with great sacrifice and very little or no recognition. We should all say a prayer daily for all those who serve.

Will “Argo” win best picture? It is way too early to tell. If I were a voting member of the Academy and I had to vote today, it would get my vote, but we have two months or more before all the films are released. But for now I will state, “Argo” is even better than they say.

One final note: stay through the credits (something I always do unless my children insist on leaving). There are some interesting facts and a touching speech from former President Jimmy Carter that end the film on just the right note. Good choice director Affleck, I can hardly wait for your next film.