Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall
Run-time: 120 minutes
IN SHORT: Argo is captivating and effectively tense throughout. Besides some 'Hollywood' moments that threaten to ruin the realism, it's a thoroughly compelling movie.
Nowadays I'm wary when a film proudly declares itself to be 'based on true events' or 'inspired by a true story'. Usually this is a nonsense claim in an attempt to ground a movie in realism and stir up some publicity. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Argo is another one of these Hollywood movies with false claims of authenticity. The bizarre storyline is, after all, hard to believe. Although sometimes reality is stranger than fiction and Argo is a stunning example of this.
Argo is a fake movie that the CIA/Canadian government used as a cover-up to rescue hostages during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979. Tony Mendes (Affleck) is tasked with the unenviable role of entering Tehran under the guise of a Hollywood movie producer. His mission is to rescue six Americans who managed to escape the US embassy building during the riot. In order to get out alive, the group are to disguise themselves as a Canadian film crew seeking locations for their goofy Star Wars knock-off, Argo. With Iran under lock-down and in the midst of revolution, it's seen as a suicide mission but as one character puts it; 'it's the best bad idea we've got'.
|Affleck rocks the 70's look with ease.|
After some introductory text explaining the Iranian Hostage Crisis, we're thrown immediately into the middle of a siege as hundreds of Iranian civilians storm the US embassy in Tehran. The irate civilians smash their way through the building's windows and fortifications as the people inside can only look on in horror. Once the Iranians are inside, they take sixty people hostage. Six of the embassy employees escape through a back entrance and flee to the Canadian embassy. It's a brutally realistic start to the film but a necessary one as it raises the stakes from the get-go.
Argo's strength is its realism and authenticity. The performances from the cast are earnest and emotionally engaging. During the closing credits, shots from Argo are juxtaposed with real photographs from the actual crisis and the resemblance between the two is uncanny. It's clear that Affleck wanted to portray the events with as much detail and realism as possible and he succeeded. The film's late 70's, early 80's setting also helps to establish the time period, as Affleck walks around in a long trench-coat and far too much facial hair. There's a lot of facial hair in this movie!
|Affleck runs through the film cover story with the US embassy employees|
Before Mendes gets to Tehran, he is assisted by two Hollywood old-timers; film director John Chambers (John Goodman) and notorious producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). These two help Tony run fake press releases for the fake movie and they even conduct a cast reading in front of television crews and journalists. These scenes add some light comedy and further cement how bonkers the whole operation truly is. Their attention to detail has the whole of Hollywood duped. Mendes even fabricates storyboards for the movie and these prove to play a pivotal role in the groups escape from Tehran.
As with any film adaptation of real life events, there's a little fabrication and a few sprinkles of Hollywood cheese. A rather cliche chase sequence seals the film, as the Iranian revolutionaries finally see through the fake-movie ruse. Some have complained that this final climax is too 'Hollywood' and whilst there are a few coincidences that insure our hero's return home safely, we mustn't forget that this did actually happen!
All-in-all, Argo is unspectacular but a very well-told, well-acted thriller that's another notch on Affleck's directing resumé. It's not necessarily a film with tremendous re-watch value but there's very little I can fault it for.