Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman
A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.
Iran. November 1979. Amid civil unrest in a region that has suffered violent atrocities amongst its various factions, anger vented at the USA comes to ahead when protesters storm the US Embassy. During this wave of chaos, six American Embassy Staff escape and find sanctuary at the Residence of the Canadian Ambassador.
Whilst the remaining forty four hostages are held in the US Embassy, these six wait for what feels like an eternity. For over 70 days they waited, until a man they never met before makes them the following promise: in two days you will be on a plane out of this country. But in order to do that, you have to pretend that you are Canadians and are making a film. With these words, “The Hollywood Option” is in full swing, but will it achieve the successful and safe return of the hostages?
Argo (taken from the name of the fictitious film production that was used in the real operation) is a true master class in modern film-making. The script (which was taken from the novel The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antionio Mendez, portrayed here by Ben Affleck) is based on true events, and is both witty and touching in equal measures. The real-name characters are given believable dialogue in impossible situations.
The acting is also impressive. Ben Affleck, as the main character of Tony Mendez, the CIA Operative who created and executed the original idea, virtually waltzes across the screen in every scene, neither stealing the film nor shying away. Indeed he is what an undercover Operative should be (in the public’s eye), someone who is there but never obtrusive. The supporting cast are on incredible form too; John Goodman as Oscar Winning Make-Up Artist John Chambers gives one of his best performances since Barton Fink. So too are Bryan Cranston as CIA Head Jack O’Donnell and Victor Garber as Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor.
The real acting honours should go to Alan Arkin as movie Producer Lester Siegal. Without doubt, his performance is one of the highlights in the film. Virtually every scene is stolen by his presence; his superb dead-pan deliverance of dialogue to a fellow movie maker to the reply of one of the questions someone ask him; “What does Argo mean? (The reply is truly perfection!)
The cinematography too is superb. With on location scenes encapsulating the beauty and architecture of one building, to the aftermath of destruction and scenes of carnage and terror that words can barely describe. Indeed this is another of the film’s many details that the casual viewer may not notice. So many of the scenes and shots were taken verbatim from photographs and television news bulletins – it is virtually impossible to tell the difference.
Ben Affleck, who has doubled as Director, has created a truly brilliant film in that it remains faithful to events and yet, uses some artistic license to create tension where needed. Indeed, so much is built up that the viewer will find themselves with a few less finger nails by the end of the movie.
However, it is in the tender moments that this film succeeds. This is not a flag waving, all guns blazing, Chuck Norris a la The Delta Force, blow the baddies up kind of movie. This is dialogue heavy and intense. The film concentrates on what we, the audience really want to know. The film is about the six American hostages, and whilst there were forty four still held hostage at the US Embassy, the film only refers to these later via a single scene and news bulletins from the time.
With spy films currently blowing the box office apart (Skyfall and The Bourne Legacy), this is a welcome and completely original true story without having to resort to over the top CGI stunts or the biggest explosion since The Manhattan Project.
True, there are some characters and situations that have been played down from what their true involvement was, but the end result is still spectacular. Award nominations will surely follow along with statuettes; a brilliant true story transferred to film.