I think it’s safe to safe that Ben Affleck’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes (of films such as Reindeer Games, Phantoms and Gigli) is complete. First there was Hollywoodland, then Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now finally Argo, which is a brilliant example of the modern thriller.
Based on a true story, it focuses on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who specialises in extracting citizens from tricky and potentially deadly international crises. When the CIA discovers that six Americans are hiding in the Canadian consulate in Tehran, it’s up to Mendez to get them out of there before the Iranians discover them.
The documents concerning this operation were only declassified in 1997, and it’s one of those situations where truth is stranger than fiction, because Mendez’s plan is to fool the Iran authorities into thinking he’s over there scouting locations for a new science fiction epic, Argo. Hollywood producers are in on the plan, even going so far as to getting the likes of ‘Variety’ to publicise the upcoming film.
Affleck’s movie is fascinating and superbly directed. There’s a tension that runs throughout the entire film, culminating in a final half hour that is literally edge of your seat stuff. This is up there with some of the best moments of tension you’ll ever see in a Hitchcock film; it’s that good.
The cast is fantastic, and it’s amusing to try and pick the faces beneath the rather extreme late 70s/early 80s hairdos. Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Victor Garber all play small but significant roles, whilst the diplomats are played by the likes of Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishé, all of which manage to oscillate between nervous and terrified for most of the running time. Affleck plays the starring role with incredible subtlety. It’s his job to be calm in such high pressure situations, but we also get the occasional glimpse of Mendez’s own fears.
There are most likely a lot of historical inaccuracies (the most obvious being the image of the Hollywood sign in a dilapidated state, even though it had been repaired two years earlier) but it doesn’t really matter when you have such a perfectly crafted film. The pacing is exceptional, and the film (much like a less flashy version of The Kingdom) gives us a quick history lesson in the first few minutes, so that the complicated stuff is out of the way quickly. It’s 120 minutes long but the time whizzed by, so exceptional was the pacing.
Easily one of the best films of the year, Argo is a fantastic thriller that should have broad appeal.Rating: