Starring: Been Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
You may like this if you liked: The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010), Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell, 1997), Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)
In 1979 the US embassy in Tehran, Iran is invaded by revolutionaries, taking all those that work there hostage. Six embassy workers manage to escape and take refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador. Several months later, it is only a matter of time before the Iranians realise that there are six members of staff missing and then find them with unthinkable consequences. The CIA decides they have to get them out of there, but with very few options ‘exfiltration’ expert Tony Mendez (Affleck) devises an extremely risky plan. His plan is to set up a production company producing a fake science fiction film called Argo, using his Hollywood contracts. Mendez will pose as associate producer and fly into to Iran to do a search for ‘locations to shoot’ and pass the six embassy workers off as Canadian members of the film crew. However, with the Iranians closing in on discovering the truth and the US government having doubts about the operation, Mendez faces a race against time to get them out safely.
I must confess that when I saw the trailer for this I thought it looks like an enjoyable enough, but generic and conventional typical Hollywood thriller. Argo looked to me as a film to rent, but not to watch at the cinema and the expense that entails. All of a sudden, the hype seemed to get bigger and bigger, with constantly excellent reviews. However I had missed my chance to see Argo at the cinema, and then of course all the awards came along. There was a one of chance to see it again at my local independent cinema, but that showing was completely sold out. So I had to wait for the DVD release. Sometimes films can be overhyped, putting expectations sky high and only leading to disappointment. I am pleased to see I personally feel that the hype is justified. Foe me, Argo is an extremely enjoyable and well made old fashioned style thriller.
I particularly enjoyed Gone Baby Gone, and The Town was also a good watch. Argo poses a much bigger challenge to Affleck as a director with different story strands, various contrasting locations and trying to create a sense of tension while holding all this together. I have to say I thought this is all handled extremely well. There is very rarely a dull moment as the pacing is excellent and the film constantly grips with something always going on as what is happening in Tehran, CIA headquarters and Hollywood is all held together extremely well. The scenes in Tehran are extremely well made, feeling claustrophobic and containing a real genuine sense of intensity and edge. There is also a genuine and authentic feel of what these various places would be like 1980. What is produced is an excellent thriller proving that Hollywood can produce genuinely gripping and intelligent thrillers instead of the generic and forgettable crap it usually does.
However, Argo is not without flaws. There is a subplot involving Mendez’ relationship with his son. This may be here to try and add depth to the character, but they add nothing and just prove an annoying distraction from the main plot. Affleck himself is adequate but not amazing, which begs the question as to if he was not producer and director, would he be the one playing Mendez? Maybe Ben should decide to remain behind the camera, especially as he has a brother who is a very talented actor. Argo is of course based on a true story; the key word here is ‘based’ as this allows a certain amount of dramatic license. There were possibly a few too many clichéd ‘that was close’ moments towards the end, it surely could not be the case that these all happened. I understand the need for dramatic tension, but these sometimes feel a little clichéd and mechanical, detracting from what is already a naturally tense situation. There is also a really cringe worthy scene at the end involving an American flag in the background. I do not know if this was intentional, but it all feels a little Team America. However, these are minor quibbles with what is otherwise an excellent thriller thoroughly deserving of the awards it has received.
Argo is an excellent addition to a directorial CV that is becoming continuously impressive. Argo is a very entertaining and extremely well paced thriller that grips till the very end, demonstrating Affleck as potentially one of Hollywood’s up and coming directors.