Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Ben Affleck. Here is a guy who, with the odd exception, has not had a particularly stellar acting career. Ok, he isn’t bad per se, and yes, people will point to things like Good Will Hunting and Armageddon, but I can equally argue against that with the likes of Gigli and Daredevil.
That being said, he has turned his hand to directing and so far his decision to do so has come up trumps. Gone Baby Gone was intoxicating, with an excellent performance from his brother Casey. The Town received more critical acclaim, and whilst it had its flaws it was again a great film worthy of applause.
His third and latest film, Argo, follows the events in 1980 when the US embassy in Iran was seized by the locals who demanded the American government return the recently deposed Shah to them, so that he could pay for his crimes against humanity. Almost all of the US embassy employees were held hostage, with six managing to escape, and Argo uncovers the CIA mission to rescue them before they were killed.
Given that Iran was currently undergoing a harsh winter, and there was massive public unrest at the time, it seemed like all of the usual methods of extraction, such as agents posing as teachers or charity workers, were not viable options. Enter Agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) who has the idea of using a film crew as a cover story to help extract the six US citizens, setting up the story that they are looking for locations on where to set their science fiction movie, Argo.
Affleck does an exceptional job directing on this film, making the story both engaging and tense, whilst trying not to comment on the political aspects of the situation. He merely tells the story of how one man concocted a plan and saw it through to save the lives of his compatriots. Based on true events, the details of which were classified until 1997, the real Agent Mendez received the Intelligence Star (the highest honour bestowed upon an Agent) and is considered one of the greatest 50 agents to have served their country.
Not only does Affleck shine as a director, but he also puts in a good solid performance as Mendez. I have mentioned before he has not always had a glittering acting career, but after seeing his performances in Argo and The Town, one wonders if it is his acting ability that should be questioned or whether he is simply mis-managed by other directors? It seems like the films he has most invested in, also result in his strongest performances.
The supporting cast are also exceedingly strong. Bryan Cranston is a guy going through a bit of a renaissance and seems to be appearing in everything these days. Given all of his latest works, it is hard to picture him as the goofy father in Malcolm in the Middle. Once again, he delivers as Mendez’s supervisor Jack O’Donnell, and dishes out a healthy combination of father-like support and comic timing.
Goodman and Arkin are also a great duo, portraying two Hollywood vets who help the film production story seem plausible. They bounce off with each other well, and generally steal any scenes they are in. I have a ton of respect for both of these guys, as they never let you down and you only need to look at their resumes to understand why I rate them so highly.
I don’t usually discuss the scores, however, with a film like Argo you need everything to be on point. It’s a film that needs to suck you in so you can imagine how it must be to be stuck in the situation unfolding in front of you. Alexandre Desplat does a fantastic job for the music which helps to enhance those oh-so-very tense moments.
There is but one small criticism, and one which goes to show the double-edged-sword nature of making a film such as this. Argo is a film that depicts a particularly troubling time in the Middle East and how the US reacted to it. I fully expected to sit through a heavy, albeit excellently crafted, piece of Hollywood History, but instead the film turned out to be pretty enjoyable with some very funny moments. In fact, there are several lines in the film that actually had me laughing out loud.
Whilst I enjoyed seeing these moments, and made the viewing experience an easier one to bear, I wonder whether this slightly undermines the story itself. This could quite easily have been a film that would have stood a good chance of winning big at the Oscars, but with these flashes of comedy and entertainment, in spite of the subject matter, does it ultimately harm the films chances when it comes to awards season?
Perhaps I am being overly critical. I hope I am wrong, and I hope this is a film recognised for what it represents, which is honour and loyalty, something movie execs are often accused of not having.
See Argo when you can. It shouldn’t disappoint.
Rating 4.5 out of 5