Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Brian Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan.
Written by: Chris Terrio and (based on the article) Joshuah Bearman
Running Time: 120 mins
Release date: 7th November 2012
A few years back, Ben Aff;eck was the toast of Hollywood. An Oscar winner starring in some pretty reasonable movies, his career took a turn for the worse with some bad decisions, both personally and professionally. His position as golden boy soon disappeared, so Affleck had to reinvent himself. He did it brilliantly with his hard-hitting directorial debut, the dark Gone Baby Gone. He followed that with the equally excellent heist drama The Town. Now comes the difficult third film, Argo. In fact, it’s his best to date and people are already comparing him to one of Hollywood’s great directors, Clint Eastwood.
1979 Iran and the US Embassy is under siege by irate Iranians demanding the return of the exiled Shah. As they break in and take hostages, six Embassy workers manage to escape and take refuge in the Canadian Embassy. The American government start making plans to get the six out of the country but their ideas are not brilliant. The CIA bring in hostage expert Tony Mendez, a man who has 100% record in getting people out of countries. He soon comes up with a plan that is so ludicrous it just might work. To pretend that the six are part of a Canadian film crew scouting for locations in Iran for a movie. First he must make it believable and heads to Hollywood to recruit a producer and find a script. That script is a sci-fi film called Argo. Will the plan work? Can Mendez get these people home? Will the Iranians believe his story?
Like All The President’s Men and Apollo 11, taking real events that people might know and make an entertaining and thrilling film is always going to be tricky but like the aforementioned films, Argo works and works brilliantly. This is a film that takes you on a journey and you follow it with interest until the final 30 minutes kicks in and, trust me, you will on the edge of your seat and biting your nails to the bones.
Affleck has become such an accomplished director that he knows how to pace a film and this is consistently thrilling . The attention to detail is superb from the hairstyles and clothes of the late 70s/early 80s to the props. Even the style of filming has a sense of 80s (a nice touch is using the 70s Warner Bros logo at the beginning…good to see it again).
The casting is spot on, even down to looking like the key people involved. Brian Cranston is slowly becoming the man to go to for official political figures and as Mendez’s boss in the CIA, he is terrific. John Goodman also delivers another great performance as the make-up artist who helps gets the Argo project off the ground. The scene stealer, however, is Alan Arkin as the Hollywood producer who helps out. His is a very funny performance in an otherwise tense film and it is truly needed. He even produces the film’s catchphrase, one that I won’t mention here but once you’ve heard it, you’ll probably use it.
The film’s real star, however, is Affleck. Playing the determined Mendez as well as co-producing and directing, this is Affleck at his best. A terrifically underplayed performance, he has the good sense not to run away with the film and use it as an ego project. He knows he has talent around him and he never once acts like the boss but allows those around him to produce good work too.
He crowning glory is in the final act, a section that will have your heart racing and your palms sweating. I haven’t seen a thriller this tense in years. It was genuinely exciting to the point of almost unbearable and if you want to know what true tension feels like, this delivers in spades.
Already touted for Oscar glory next year, you can understand why. It’s a terrific thriller and quite possibly one of the best you will see. As for the comparisons to Eastwood, I’m guessing they might have got it right. Ben Affleck, the director, is one to watch in the future. In the meantime, run to see this excellent film. You will not be disappointed.