At first it seemed rather pointless to write a review of Argo at this stage. Having swept through the 2013 award season pinning down countless Best Film trophies, including the coveted golden man, you would think that it had become a ‘no review needed’ situation. But then murmurs began to occur; did it deserve to win all the awards? Was it just the Academy’s (understandable) love of George Clooney (wearing his Producer hat for this one) that led to the praise? Or did it simply win because it was one of the few films that didn’t spout reels of very public controversy? (Here’s looking at you Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained…)
So on the DVD release, it feels right to jump and defend the film that will go down in history as getting ‘that-there bloke off Pearl Harbor’ a much sought after film honour. Okay, it might not be the most shocking, life changing, or best-written film of the year, but it is certainly an exceptional piece of filmmaking.
Based on a true story — as much as any Hollywood film can be based on a true story, Argo plays out the story of six American Diplomats who escape the US embassy during the Iran hostage situation of 1979. Hidden away by the Canadians and living in constant fear, the CIA begin to formulate a plan to rescue them.
When all the marginally sensible ideas have been shot down and disregarded, it is left to CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to devise a cunning enough plan to fly the six out through the main Iranian airport in Tehran. Using Hollywood prosthetics man (and sometime CIA helper) John Chambers (John Goodman) and under the watchful eye of producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), they begin to set up a fake movie, with the plan of flying the six Americans out under the guise of a Canadian film crew, making science fiction adventure ‘Argo’.
Whilst there is no doubt the film has some fantastic comedic moments, (Arkin and Bryan Cranston lead the way with this), the tension built and maintained from the start is striking. The opening sequence in which the embassy is overthrown is claustrophobic and nerve-wracking, and I cannot remember breathing once for the entire final twenty minutes of the film’s running time. Tension is what Argo does best, and it does it better than any other film of 2013, arguably of the last decade.
With an exceptional supporting cast (Cranston, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler to name but a few), this is Hollywood ensemble at its finest. The only downside to this is the slight lack of screen time given to the six ‘houseguests’ that hold the plot together. Scoot McNairy (Monsters) is brilliantly edgy and nervous as the one member of the six not entirely happy with the prospect of placing his life in Mendez’s hands. It would have been nice to see more of quieter players Christopher Denham (who was astonishing in 2011’s Sound of My Voice and is currently rampaging through TV’s The Following), Clea DuVall and Tate Donovan, but the group scenes, such as when they are forced to pose in character at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran are expertly executed and it’s great to see such an accomplished set of actors work off each other so well.
A beautifully crafted and directed piece of cinema, and a suitable follow up to Affleck’s Boston-set thriller The Town.
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