Set in 1979, Argo follows (loosely) the real attempt by CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) to successfully extract a group of six Americans out of a post-revolution Iran. The group, who manage to escape the American embassy whilst it is being stormed, are holed up in the Canadian Ambassadors house. Cue a crazy plan, which quickly becomes established as the ONLY way they will get out alive – a science fiction film script, a fake production company and the six posing as a Canadian film crew. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the rest. Mendez flies in, they all fly out together. Simple.
In fact, you’d think it was all too simple, and perhaps a bit tired on the face of it. But whereas before, where films prefaced with ‘based on real life events’ are to be approached with caution, this works solidly in Argo’s favour. It would be fair as a viewer to dig your heels in and scoff with derision, saying something along the lines of ‘Well that just wouldn’t happen’. But in the case of Argo, the most unbelievable plot point is also the truest thing about it. And once you know that as a viewer, you are just happy to go with it.
Affleck’s directorial style is one of intelligence and good story telling. His previous films are both very good indeed, action thriller The Town and similarly gritty Gone Baby Gone. It is nice to see here that he has climbed out of his comfort zone – both previous films were set in Boston dealing with urban crime. His ambition here is fantastic. The opening sequence is a large and unruly one, but he handles it well, conveying genuine fear and discomfort onto the audience. He also handles the dual narrative well, flitting between the gauche American CIA headquarters and Iran with relative ease.
Affleck himself is as good in front of the camera as he is behind it, and he is supported by a great cast of knowns and unknowns alike. Alan Arkin and John Goodman provide the pairing that you can’t get enough of, with the script providing ample opportunity for them to take a mischievous swipe at Hollywood whilst they are at it. Bryan Cranston, a man who can do no wrong at the moment is also at ease here playing Affleck’s frustrated minder.
Argo is then, well acted and well directed, with a witty script and a thrilling central idea. Criticisms are small. Affleck’s character of Mendez is underdeveloped, with hints of a ‘man on the edge’ never really coming to fruition. The third act is perhaps a little too clichéd, relying on a climactic frenzy to build tension, but within the context of the film it works just fine. Some have criticised Argo for reinforcing negative Middle Eastern stereotypes, something which this reviewer did not feel was the case.
On the whole, Argo is an enjoyable nuts and bolts thriller, with a great cast at its heart. It is both tense and witty and continues Ben Affleck’s interesting run as a director. He surely is one to watch for the future.