Wednesday 7 November 2012

Film Review: Argo

Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck in Argo

Ben Affleck's third directorial effort hits the nail on the head yet again; Argo is a well-acted, genuinely gripping and impressive film that lacks any real flaws or misgivings. Contender for Best Picture? Quite possibly.

Set in a Revolutionary 1970's Iran, Argo tells the story of 6 American's fleeing from certain death at the hands of an Iranian public baying for their blood. Cut off from the outside world and camping out in the Canadian Ambassador's house, escape from Iran seems impossible. Step in then Ben Affleck and 'Argo'; a zany scheme that sees CIA agents buddy up with Hollywood producers to create the ultimate cover story. Tasked with making a fake movie to cover their escape and provide alibis for the fleeing American refugees, the CIA need to pull the fastest 'fast one' in the history of the agency.

Escape from Tehran: Affleck as CIA agent Tony Mendez
For me, Argo was a real breath of fresh air. It could have been handled very differently, swapping tension for action. Instead, it sets out to prove to those in audience that a film doesn't have to rely upon pyrotechnics and CGI explosions for entertainment. The pacing of the film is probably what best aids to this immense amount of tension; the audience are not catapulted from one action set-piece to another, thrown back in their seats by explosions so vast that they're beyond belief. Instead, layer upon layer of drama, of detail and of atmosphere is laid atop one another in order to create an almost paralysing finale that keeps the audience holding their breath until the very end.

It also doesn't hurt that almost every part in the film is acted and written very well. Taking centre stage is Affleck himself, playing CIA ex filtration expert Tony Mendez. Usually the Hollywood equivalent of Marmite (you either love him or you hate him), here Affleck is relatively under-stated and subdued; he doesn't overact it and this works in his favour.

Likewise, the entire supporting cast are well-cast, written and acted. Alan Arkin and John Goodman provide welcome comic-relief as Hollywood hot-shots Lester Siegel and John Chambers, whilst Bryan Cranston is fantastic as CIA executive Jack O'Donnell. The former in particular are great additions; for all the sweaty-palm inducing interrogation scenes, Argo has rib-tickling one-liners from Siegel and Chambers that are a side nod to the workings of the movie industry; after all, if they're going to make a fake movie, they're going to make a fake hit.

The biggest plus-point with Argo however is the fact that it is based on a true story. The absurdity and implausibility of such a crazy scheme was completely offset by the fact that this actually happened. The CIA really did commission a screenplay, hire a director, hire a producer, hold a 'read through', fly into Iran and attempt to sneak out a band of refugees under the guise of being a film crew. As a result of this, Argo feels like a rose-tinted throwback to the 70's and the atmosphere of the Cold War.

Argo then is a brilliant mixture of Cold-War suspense and introspective cinema satire. With brilliant acting from the entire cast and nail-biting suspense, Argo is testament to the adage that less is very often more.

I give Argo: 9/10

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