DIRECTOR: Ben Afleck
May Contain Spoilers!
This years Academy Award winning Best Film takes us back on a nostalgic trip back to 1980, and let’s not kid ourselves, this is half of the charm. Argo is the true story, though through obvious theatrical licence, of the CIA’s attempt to rescue six embassy staff members from the U.S.’s Iranian Embassy storming which left a further 50 diplomats and staff held hostage, fearing for their lives until 1981, a total 444 days in captivity.
With the entire embassy accused of espionage, if these six escapees were caught, their execution would be certain, which is where Tony Mendez (Ben Afleck) comes in with his less than conventional plan. He enlisted the help of producers John Chambers, John Goodman in his second best picture in as many years, and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to help him create a fake movie, “Argo”, in order to create a series of airtight covers for the six, who are hiding out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, and to fly them out before they are found by the Iranians.
The first thing is that this is a wonderful looking film, capturing the time and places perfectly, though at times it can feel a little blunt with its strong references to Star Wars, Star Trek, Planet Of The Apes and Battlestar Galactica, all relevant as “Argo”, the fake movie, was supposed to be a Star Wars rip-off but I felt that this was aimed at the 30 – 40 year old’s watching, another touch stone as to the time and strongly creating a science of nostalgia, a powerful tool in creating a period piece.
But I liked it, as I did the care and attention given to recreating the events such as the meticulously detailed and well paced storming of the embassy in the opening 10 minutes. This could have been an action sequence but instead, it was slow, tense and chilling sequence in which the staff burn their documents and wait in fear as the building is slowly taken, but even then there’s pause for humour as an Iranian angrily holds up a portrait of the ayatollah, which has been used as dart board by U.S. staff!
The final credits compares images from the film with real photographs and they are almost spot on, a successful attempt from Afleck to demonstrate the levels of accuracy employed here, but it also stank of Oscar bait. There’s no doubt that this is an Oscar-winning movie, it’s got it all. It’s nostalgic, relevant, dealing with though emotional issues and set in Hollywood, and Hollywood love to see themselves on-screen.
But this is no ham handed film, it’s well scripted with some great dialogue, gently paced and feels meticulous even though it’s not. Afleck has found a style which feels more concise that it actually is. The pacing isn’t perfect but when you’re watching it, it felt as if everything was being explained at a reasonable speed, yet in that final sequence in which the seven, included Afleck, make their final break, the tension is palpable.
This is a truly great film, dealing with an interesting time is Middle-Eastern politics and taking a light-hearted look at Hollywood’s cynical production systems, even the dilapidated Hollywood sign! My only real problem lies in the pacing. Whilst sufficient and at times very good, it feels a bit uneven and can meander, but other than that, this is cast driven piece and it was cast perfectly. This was and interesting as it was tense and tense it certainly was.
Afleck is defiantly on the way up and his Gigli (2003) days seem to be long behind him, there’s no doubt about that.