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Released 7 November 2012
Director Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan
Writer(s) Chris Terrio
Producer(s) George Clooney, Grant Heslov, David Klawans
Origin United States
Running Time 120 minutes
Genre Drama, thriller
Rating 15A

Argo see this movie!

Something of a dark horse, Ben Affleck is oft-considered a mediocre actor, or at the very least one that has made some questionable career choices. His foray into directing however proved a breath of fresh air with 2010’s excellent The Town and his debut, Gone Baby Gone, one of the most excitingly original crime dramas in years. His third feature Argo showcases the work of a filmmaker that has mastered his craft and may just be Affleck’s most assured piece of work yet. Intelligently weaving between tense, political thriller and metafictional comedy and back again, Argo tells the impossibly true story of a 1979 CIA operation that attempted to “exfiltrate” six American embassy workers out of a hostile Iran by having them pose as the film crew of a sci-fi fantasy Star Wars rip-off (the Argo of the title).

A clever voice-over reminiscent of the opening of Persepolis outlines the political context and we are dropped straight into the action; a fleeing Shah has just been granted political asylum in the USA and outraged militants take the US embassy hostage. Our six manage to escape to the safety of the Canadian ambassador’s home, but it’s only a matter of time before they are discovered and so, the CIA send in specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) posing as a Canadian film director scouting locations for his upcoming flick to train them in their new roles and escape via plane a few days later. It’s the “best bad idea” they have. Seriously, it was either this or a three hundred mile cycle to the Turkish border.

A taut and extremely effective thriller, Argo grips you to your seat with nail bitingly tense scenes that can be almost torturous. Just like the hostages, the film holds an unloaded gun to your head and pulls the trigger. However, half way through it effortlessly drifts into comedic territory. John Goodman and Alan Arkin give excellent turns as cynical Hollywood types. It’s quips left, right and centre; their mantra of “Argo fuck yourself!” perfectly capturing the falseness of the industry. Bryan Cranston also stretches his comedic chops as a sardonic CIA operative.

The devil is in the details with many a fact-based thriller and Argo makes every effort to be historically accurate; actors bearing the same likeness to their real-life counterparts haven’t been chosen this well since Milk. While it may irk some Canadian’s that the role their government played in the extraction is significantly downplayed, this is partly a drama film and certain sacrifices had to be made to up the ante dramatically- not to get on a Pro-America high horse about it. Also refreshing is that Argo never succumbs to using lazy, Hollywood stereotypes of Arabs; the Iranian characters are depicted as noble and bound by injustices at the hands of the Shah. Particularly interesting is the Canadian ambassador’s young maid, who may be questioning where her loyalties lie.

While some of the fine points are exaggerated or embellished (the climax positively screams “Hollywood!”), when the story is told this well it’s hard to pick faults. Argo is another sure-footed step forward for Hollywood’s newest promising filmmaker and is likely to clean up come awards season.

- Cathal Prendergast