From an incredible true story, recently declassified by the CIA, comes this nail-biting thriller from actor turned director Ben Affleck.
In 1979, during the Iranian revolution, rebel forces stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, and 52 American employees were taken hostage and held for 444 days. During the raid, six workers managed to escape to the streets and went into hiding with the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor for almost three months. Meanwhile CIA agent Tony Mendez (here played by Ben Affleck) was conspiring to sneak them out of the country. With a little help from his friends in Hollywood, makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), they come up with the stranger-than-fiction idea to disguise the escapees as actors in a science fiction film and fly them out on a commercial flight.
Kitted out in thick-framed glasses and some questionable facial hair, the cast looks suitably 70s, and tiptoeing through the streets of Tehran during a time of civil unrest makes them stick out like a sore thumb.
Its authenticity is partly due to the period detail, reportedly using blown up 35mm footage to achieve the grainy aesthetic of the time. Affleck’s degree in Middle Eastern studies shows his credentials, too, creating something plausibly historically accurate from a far-fetched story.
The suspense rivals Hitchcock’s best, as Ben Affleck directs Chris Terrio’s screenplay with dramatic flair and builds tension at a steady pace, as well as delighting the audience with an action-packed finale. Somehow the balance is struck between political satire and gut wrenching comedy.
The film is near flawless and Affleck does well to reflect on America’s tormented relationship with Iran. But however relevant, the film teeters on caricaturing the terrorist and inciting fear in the American viewer. The average harmless Iranian is nowhere to be seen, with the trigger-happy raving mob taking centre stage.
With half the story set in Hollywood, the film pokes fun at the movie-biz, with the ever-hilarious Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) showing up the culture of hot shots blagging their way to success. But the finished article is more blockbuster than it would like us to believe, oozing patriarchy from its Hollywood-saves-the-day conclusion.
It is the phony B-movie hidden in this crime thriller that makes it such a joy to watch. Already racing to the top of the U.S box office charts, Argo will be a sure-fire hit in the U.K too.
Truly proving his stripes as a director after his critical and box office successes with Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), Ben Affleck could now have an Oscar contender on his hands.