Dir. Ben Affleck
There’s one major reason for seeing Argo. It’s not the political resonances with recent events at the US embassy in Libya; nor simply because Ben Affleck’s film (the best actor-turned-director since Eastwood?) has a very good chance of winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards in February. Quite simply, Argo should be seen because it tells a fantastic (and fantastical) story.
The film is based on a real-life rescue mission carried out by the CIA during the 1979 Iranian revolution. Unorthodox agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) concocts a scheme to free six trapped US hostages from Iran: posing as a Canadian film crew, he plans to smuggle them out as employees with forged passports. Mendez is the agency’s expert in ‘exfiltration’ and decides that his bizarre plan is the only solution.
To do this he spends the first half of the film setting up a production company in Hollywood, with help from make-up and prosthetics artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and veteran movie mogul Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). The second half of the film depicts the escape mission itself, back-dropping the action with the controversial presidency of Jimmy Carter during the period.
The unlikelihood of the story is the basis of the film’s charm, combining comic moments derived from Mendez’ ridiculous plot with a real sense of tension rivalling any thriller of recent years. Affleck’s performance as an actor is amongst his best; seemingly raising his game in front of the camera since spending some time behind it. The use of hand-held camera footage and dated film grains also contribute to the creation of story and mood; particularly helping to convey a sense of panic during the riot scenes.
The entirety of the supporting cast also deliver, with Bryan Cranston, known from his TV roles in Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, particularly impressive as Mendez’s passionate boss and friend.
The ending, rather than too patriotically American as has been suggested, was actually just overly Hollywood. IndeedArgo actually began with fairly blatant criticism of US foreign policy in Iran prior to the revolution. The film manages to retain its believability for over two hours (with some struggle), but the Airport runway scene towards the end is obviously a screen-writer’s fabrication.
Historical inaccuracy and a bit of flag waving shouldn’t deter viewers though – Argo is a very enjoyable and gripping film. I did it a disservice earlier; it doesn’t just tell a fantastic story, it tells it very well.