In his third film as director, Ben Affleck presents the incredible true story of the Set in Iran in 1979. As the US embassy in Iran falls to a mob of Ayatollah-supporting students, six officers sneak out and seek sanctuary with the Canadian embassy. It is up to the CIA’s Tony Mendez to extract them from the country before they are discovered by the Revolutionary Guards. The plan? Create a fake movie called Argo, and pretend they’re the crew.
Ben Affleck arrives with his new film in something of a surprising position. Where initially in his first works as director, the excellent Gone Baby Gone and The Town, it was believed by many that he had “gotten lucky”. Now with Argo, we are faced with a question few would have contemplated five years ago; can Ben Affleck match the high expectation we now have off him?
The answer is a resounding yes. Part political thriller, part old-school espionage, along with a surprising douse of black humour, Argo what will certainly be a big contender come awards season, and rightly so. Affleck has created one of the most gripping and exciting movies in recent memory. He does this through not only what is a hugely fascinating story, but also strong characterisation and dialogue. While it may initially seem quite self-indulgent for Affleck to cast himself as the films lead, in actuality, it is something of a thankless role. He gets no awards-baiting speech, or particularly troubling backstory. Although he is presented as the risk-taking mastermind behind the Argo plan, the real stars are the film’s supporting players.
The script’s snappiest and most quotable dialogue is given to Alan Arkin and John Goodman, playing the fake films star and prosthetics artist respectively, but particular praise must be given to Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as Affleck’s superior, who enjoys what is surely the movies funniest line (“It’s the best bad idea we’ve got, Sir”). Not that the film is all talk tough. The film frequently uses sequences that one only appreciates in hindsight, which seamlessly tell the story and engage the audience at the same time. A particular highlight being one in which the faux film-makers launch into a script-reading, we are also shown a chilling scene in which a number of American hostages are blindfolded and taken into a dark basement for a mock execution. It seems everyone in this movie is playing a show. The CIA in creating a fake movie; Hollywood, as that is it’s very business; and the Iranians, trying to show the rest of the world that they are not to be taken lightly.
All of these qualities combine perfectly through Affleck’s assured direction. It’s no easy task to make laughter and tension complement, rather than neutralise each other, but Affleck manages it with aplomb. Any awards that come his way this year are richly deserved.
Tight, tense, entertaining and frequently thought-provoking, Argo is quite simply one of the films of the year.