DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
CAST: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, |Alan Arkin,
CLASSIFICATION: 13 LV
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
THIS understated thriller from Ben Affleck deserves all the accolades being heaped on it. It follows the rescue of six US diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the height of the Iran hostage crisis, but manages to get in a fun little kick at Hollywood amid all the seriousness.
Starting with militants storming the US embassy on November 4 , 1979, the film uses news footage and photographs to faithfully recreate scenes. It also uses the archived material to flesh out the film’s exposition, lending an immediacy to the scenes which heightens the tension.
Costume and set design is also spot on, immersing the viewer in the real world of extremist behaviour on both sides – Iran and America.
But, this isn’t simply a faithful period piece – it’s also a taut thriller with a plot that could only be cooked up in Hollywood, yet is based on true events.
The film could well have been subtitled How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran from the 2007 Wired article that provided the screenplay’s inspiration.
In the film, the diplomats seek refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home when their own embassy is overrun and CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) suggests a way to get them out of the country.
He proposes they pretend to be a Canadian film crew on a film location scout and travels to Iran to help them get out.
While they are not all thrilled to be playing James Bond, the six want to get out and do their best to play along.
The fun part comes in just before Mendez reaches Iran, when he has to set up the back story for the film by going to Hollywood and start the pre-production process, just for the sake of plausible deniability, that is in case anyone actually checked whether the film was for real.
In contrast to the paper shuffling and hand wringing that everyone else is doing at that moment, the Hollywood sequence is darkly comical as he fast-tracks the process with the help of John Chambers (Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Arkin).
While the film may diverge from the actual events in the name of poetic licence, this is not a documentary but a feature film, and, as such, it works.
Affleck manages to step away from what could have been some serious American flag waving potential to play on the drama of the situation.
He never paints the Iranians as cartoonish bad guys and even hints that America’s meddling in Iran’s foreign policy may have been partly to blame for the situation.
He creates enough space for various people to flesh out their characters but stops the film from becoming a heavy treatise on world politics by introducing the ridiculousness of the Hollywood world of party, party, party.
Affleck’s performance is the understated part of the film – he doesn’t give any big speeches or make waves, he just gets on with the job. This is in heavy contrast to Arkin and Goodman who play it distractingly and deliciously large.
Even though you know where the story is going since it happened already, Affleck as the director manages to ratchet up the tension with the help of some good editing and the absurdity of the storyline is swept away by your empathy for the strangeness of their predicament.
All in all, Argo has as many funny moments as serious ones.
It proves that truth is often stranger than fiction.
If you liked… Ronin or the Hurt Locker… you will like this.