Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin
2012 has blessed us with some decent films, but none have lived up to what we’ve viewed in previous years. Of course we’ve had The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers Assemble and Skyfall, but these box office successes have all been franchise movies. Last year we had excellent sleeper films like Warrior and 50/50 (based on a true story but not a franchise or sequel etc) and the year before that we had the brilliantly different Inception and The Social Network (again, roughly based on true events). This year has failed to have any of these sleeper films until now. The premise of this film sounded like a risk, but talk about a risk that has paid off.
Argo is based on a declassified true story. The operation undertaken was kept so secret that it took seventeen years for it to finally be announced to the public and for the people involved to finally take some credit. It’s set around the time of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. I wasn’t born at this time, but the prologue of the film gives you a brief history of what took place.
In a nutshell – members of the Iranian public were so against the US for taking in their Prime Minister, that they attacked the US Embassy in Iran and took the people inside hostage; however six managed to evade capture, escaped the Embassy and took refuge in the Canadian Embassy. A few months later the CIA were told of the six and that the Iranian rebels were going door to door hunting them, so the CIA had to get them out. So they call in Tony Mendez, an ex-filtration specialist, tasked with bringing them home. Tony proposes that he should go in as a film producer on a location recce and bring the six out as if they were part of his crew.
Of course it isn’t as easy as Tony envisaged and the first part of the film alone means they have to publicise the movie as if it was infact real, meaning he has to get producers on board and advertise it in the Hollywood press. Once the public believe the lie Tony can go into Iran where they will find out if his plan will actually work.
I’ve read some gripes that the ending isn’t true to the history, but after reading what actually happened I can’t help but think how boring it would have been if they hadn’t altered it, so thank you to screenwriting newcomer Chris Terrio who has written one of the most intense final acts I’ve seen on the big screen. It’s so intense I was leaning further and further forward as it played out.
High praise must go to Ben Affleck for his excellent direction. He captures the intensity of the entire piece, as well as emphasising light-hearted moments of humour, especially in the first half from Alan Arkin and John Goodman. He’s made a cross of genres and a historical story one full of wit and tension.
The acting is also very good. Affleck stars in the film and, although his direction is better, plays Mendez in a subdued fashion. There’s no emotion to him, he’s there to do a specific job and Terrio has written the character brilliantly. The six hostages, although having very little back-story, are played well by their actors, especially Scoot McNairy. Bryan Cranston also stars but has a lot less screen time than I had hoped. The two real stars in my eyes are John Goodman and Alan Arkin. The banter between them and the delivery of their dialogue is great. One of the best lines is Goodman speaking to Affleck and saying, “you could teach a monkey to direct a film in two days“, which is ironic since he was saying it to the actual director of the film.
The story is very well handled. It will have its critics for its accuracy, but I believe it’s fairly on the money. The parts that have been omitted seem like they’ve been taken out for dramatic reason and to minimise complicating the narrative. Many of these films have to waver slightly from the truth, as the truth doesn’t always make good fiction.
There aren’t really any negatives I have with the film. It does lack back-story to the characters, but I felt that this only added to the whole notion that this was kept completely top secret. There’s a small sub plot involving Mendez and his family that doesn’t pop up enough to make us care, but at least gives us something about him.
It’s the humour and tension that make Argo so great. Don’t be put off by its content because you’ll not be disappointed. This is without a doubt one of the films of the year, with Oscar nods already touted. It should definitely be up for Best Picture, but even more so for Best Director. Affleck has recreated the 70/80s right down to the hairstyles. Even the production company logos at the beginning are in a 70’s fashion. From the moment it begins you’re in Affleck’s world and it isn’t until you’ve left the theatre that you come back to yours.