Film Review: Argo

Argo is one of those true stories that are so bizarre and farcical that it must be real. Earlier in the year it was a similar story with the chilling documentary The Imposter, about a young French boy who was able to impersonate a missing American child. It’s a strange thing, but because it is a true story we are willing to go along with the story. If Argo was a complete work of fiction, Hollywood would have probably laughed the idea out of the room. But Argo does work. In fact it works spectacularly. This is largely thanks to the ingenious directing of Ben Affleck. Now on his third film after the small hits of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, he is quickly shaping up to be one of Americas smartest mainstream directors. For many in Hollywood, Argo would be considered a break out film. And yet, it doesn’t feel that way with Affleck. He’s hotly tipped for an Oscar at the beginning of 2013, and deservedly so, but still you get the feeling that the best is still yet to come from this young director. Argo takes place in the November of 1979, when the US Embassy building in post-revolution Tehran is taken over by a group of students supporting the Ayatollah. During the occupation, six officers are able to slip away and quickly attempt to seek sanctuary with the Canadians. The only problem is, it will only be a matter of time before they are discovered by the revolution. So CIA officer Tom Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with an unconventional idea to get them out. He and a group of CIA agents create a fake movie, and head into Tehran as a fake film crew. Argo has an ensemble cast, but Ben Affleck’s Tom Mendez really serves as the main character. He approaches it with a rather delicate touch, creating a role that moves around the story rather quietly. Affleck certainly doesn’t make the mistake of cutting down on his own scenes because he’s directing, instead he surrounds himself with an excellent supporting cast to help share some of the workload. Affleck’s performance though is as exact and as thoughtful as ever, and he seems to delight in being surrounded by such a talented cast. Most of the comedy elements come from the two Hollywood executives, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (John Goodman). Chambers is more than willing to produce a movie for free as long as it gets the hostages out of Tehran. Siegel wants to make a fake movie that’s a fake hit. Incidentally, the real life John Chambers received an Oscar for the huge amount of research he did for The Planet of The Apes, which involved a lot of sitting around in a zoo. On the CIA side, we’ve got Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston). This is clearly a role the Cranston revels in, as he gets the majority of the best lines. “This is the best bad plan we have… by far” he says. It’s a little surprising that Argo feels so comfortable and flows so well, considering this is the first time Ben Affleck has stepped out of his directorial comfort zone. Both Gone Baby Gone and The Town are set in Boston, so to jump to a whole new level with a tense thriller set on location in a different country is a bit of a leap. He does at points twist the truth a little, purely because real life very rarely resembles the flow of a movie, but he is always respectful of what the CIA agents did. The section of the story that involves the negotiation with Hollywood to make a fake movie certainly will have appealed to Affleck. It’s very self-deprecating and you can see that Affleck enjoys poking fun at himself and his own industry. When it comes to the serious moments though, Affleck doesn’t hold back with the dramatic tension. For many it would be a stumbling block, but Argo is able to use humour in a way that compliments the tension. It’s a real balancing act that can easily go wrong, but Ben Affleck makes it look like second nature to him. So often we go to the cinema to watch a hero save the day. In this case, Argo is the bizarre true story about when the movies really did save the day. It’s just a shame that because the actual CIA file was classified for so long, it was a story that no one noticed. Thanks to Ben Affleck though, we certainly have noticed now. Much of the younger audience may be put off by the 1970s setting, but Argo proves to be a wonderful winter thriller for one of Hollywood’s best new directors. There will be Oscars. Image reproduced from Video reproduced from YouTube / FilmsActuTrailers

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About Eric Wood

Eric Wood is 21 years old, from Bury in Greater Manchester, and a graduate of Salford University where he studied Journalism and English Literature. His first novel comes out later in the year, and he begins work directing his first feature length movie in the summer. Eric absolutely adores all forms of writing and loves movies so he’s the ideal film critic. His greatest inspiration for many years has been Michael Crichton, as Crichton has written novels, non-fiction, screenplays, and directed movies. Eric would love to be able to achieve all of those things in my lifetime.
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