Continuing to add to his successful career as a director, Ben Affleck’s Argo is an excitingly tense thrill ride with some wonderfully surprising humor thrown in for good measure. Using great attention to detail to create the 1970s era, and making great use of a good script and quality performances, Argo is no doubt one of the films of the year so far.
When thinking of modern day actors who have successfully made the transition to behind the camera, the most obvious would be George Clooney, whose directorial work on political subjects in particular has earned him a respectable status as a filmmaker. It’s therefore no surprise that he acts as producer for Argo, with Ben Affleck taking the director’s chair and proving that he too has the skills needed to create a fine piece of work for this political thriller.
Based on real events, Argo is set during the 1979 Iranian revolution, and begins with militants storming the US embassy in Tehran, taking over fifty American hostages. In all the chaos and confusion, six embassy workers manage to slip away and take refuge in the Canadian Ambassador’s home. Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, an exfiltration specialist brought in by the CIA, to find a way to get the six Americans out of the country before they are found, and possibly killed. What ensues is an outlandish scheme to pose as a film crew scouting locations for a science fiction movie, a plan that is, in CIA vernacular “the best bad idea we have, by far”.
With so much at stake, one of the film’s strengths lies in its ability to blend humor with hugely suspenseful tension. The supporting cast is varied but replete with highly skilled performances, from John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the brash Hollywood executives tasked with helping Mendez, to the always reliable Bryan Cranston as Tony’s CIA boss. Each are cast perfectly, and play their parts to perfection, allowing the film to create both tension when required (which is often) as well as levity, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. This is achieved thanks to the self-deprecating nature of the comedy, with a delightfully honest approach to CIA tactics and Hollywood practices in particular.
This is no doubt thanks to the confidence and skill of Affleck as the film’s director. The film immediately convinces you of its time period, with everything from the grainy film stock to the many pairs of oversized glasses worn by the characters. Affleck achieves the look, style, and the very feel of the late 70s period, which, in turn, draws you into the crisis even more. Each strand of the narrative is woven together effectively, and builds to almost a heist movie aesthetic, with the hostages as the target, adding further excitement to what is already a gripping subject.
As well as his confident and skillful work behind the camera, Affleck still holds his own in front of it, giving a measured and understated performance. More character exposition would have been appreciated of Tony Mendez, but he plays the role well and is extremely believable.
Unfortunately, the film is not without its flaws, and sadly they seem to come all at once. Most of the film is brilliantly done, but the extremely overblown climax is unwarranted, and removes some of the authenticity that has been built up throughout. Furthermore, at times Argo becomes a love letter to the ingenuity of American covert operations, and the saccharine sentimentality of the film’s conclusion is laid on a little too thick.
However, this does not detract too much from the fine work that is Argo. With its witty and insightful script, and top quality performances to bring it to life, Argo is very close to being one of the most impressive political thrillers in memory. With nerve-shredding tension and hilarious comedy in perfectly weighted balance, Ben Affleck’s skill as a director is in no doubt, having crafted one of the best films of 2012.
Best bit: Watching Affleck’s Tony Mendez maneuver the murky waters of Hollywood alongside John Goodman and Alan Arkin is both hilarious and insightful, without trivialising the reason he is there.