Argo - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
BEN Affleck makes it three for three as a director with Argo, a tense political thriller based on real events that is unquestionably one of the films of the year.
Although it inevitably takes some artistic licence with fact, Affleck’s film remains a story so outlandish that it could only be true. Yet it combines moments of nerve-wracking tension with sly comedy as it flits between the corridors of the CIA in Washington to the egotistical studios of Hollywood and, finally, out into the volatile cauldron of hate that was late 1970s Iran.
Affleck himself plays CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist Tony Mendez, who is called into action when the American Embassy in Iran is seized by revolutionaries, prompting six workers to escape and find shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
With time rapidly running out before the six are identified, found and executed as spies, Mendez concocts ‘the best bad plan’ at the agency’s disposal: namely, he’ll enter the country by posing as the producer of a new science fiction movie named Argo and escort them out by pretending they are his film crew.
In order to make the story fool-proof, he also ventures out to Hollywood to set up a production company (with the help of John Goodman’s special effects man and Alan Arkin’s producer), before finally entering Iran and attempting the seemingly suicidal.
Affleck’s film is a grand-standing piece of cinema that works on just about every level, gripping from start to finish. Thriving from an astute script from Chris Terrio and displaying a flawless eye for period detail (thanks to production designer Sharon Seymour), the film manages to shine a light on an amazing chapter in US history that has been kept under lock and key for so long.
Politically, it’s sensible enough not to appear overly patriotic or flag-waving, relying instead on the capacity of a few good men to do what was right in an extreme situation. As a result, it succeeds on a personal level, creating a bunch of characters that are desperately worth rooting for and who feel all the more real as a result.
Affleck is superbly under-stated as Mendez – as calm as he is calculated and yet vulnerable too. But there’s excellent support across the board, whether from Bryan Cranston as his loyal colleague, Scoot McNairy as a sceptical member of the six, Arkin and Goodman as the Hollywood heavyweights along for the ride, or even Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Tate Donovan and Victor Garber in less prominent roles.
The pot-shots at Hollywood amuse and go some way to alleviating the tension created by the scenes in Iran, which positively seethe with hatred and violence. And the final moments, as Mendez and company attempt to reach the airport and board the plane home, are incredibly intense.
If Affleck affords himself a few moments of sentiment in the very final shots, he still knows not to overdo it, while dropping in real-life photos and radio archive material over the end credits to illustrate just how close he has been in terms of attention to detail.
Following in the wake of his first two directorial films Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Argo underlines Affleck’s newfound status as one of America’s most talented filmmakers. It is a brilliant piece of movie-making.
Running time: 120mins
UK Release Date: November 7, 2012
- Read our review
- Ben Affleck interview
- Bryan Cranston interview
- Argo Photo Gallery
- Watch the trailer