This is the kind of story you couldn’t make up. There really is nothing like real life when it comes to one of the years most gripping films. Based on a true story, Argo is a dramatic retelling of the rescue of six U.S. Diplomats from Tehran. Its far fetched, terrifying, grounded, and a little bit absurd. It’s all those things, but most of all it’s entertaining from start to finish. I never liked Ben Affleck as an actor, but as a Director he has a lot of things going for him! This is his third film after Gone Baby Gone and The Town, with both receiving wipe spread critical acclaim. With Argo, he brings his authentic film making to a story that thrives on it, and it’s likely to place him in the box seat for an Oscar.
In 1979 in retaliation for U.S. support of the recently deposed Shah, militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Iran taking every one hostage. Just six people managed to escape, and they took refuge in the Canadian embassy. With the escapees kept secret for fear they would be arrested and shot, the State Department sort to exfiltrate them from Iran. In comes Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) who floats the idea of staging a fake movie, creating a cover that the six Diplomats are from a Canadian production company scouting exotic locations in Iran to film a Science Fiction movie. As the movie itself states “this is the best bad idea we have,” and so they run with it.
The film is exquisitely pieced together, never ramming anything down your throat (with the exception of it’s slightly misinformed prologue), and relying on the intelligence of the audience to build the tension in their own minds based in some cases on nothing more than the images on screen. The film oozes Affleck’s style, it’s thoughtful, provocative sometimes challenging, but also quite humorous and most of all completely enthralling. Every scene is littered with details that both challenge and engage, from Muslim women eating KFC in down town Tehran to lingering on the nameless CIA Memorial Wall. It’s the sign of a mature film maker to shows us the elements that can build a sense of the emotional elements and the intangible in our minds. It comes to fruition when the critical moments arrive, no one has to say anything, not even a drop of music needs to be played in order to set that nervous feeling your stomach.
Having a well made film however is one thing, but the glue that holds it together are the cast. In this case the cast are superb, they all seem to fit quite nicely. Alan Arkin and John Goodman play the Hollywood experts in this caper, they fit the roles so perfectly that essentially they don’t appear to be acting. It’s seems to have been the philosophical approach to casting this film, just pick the person who won’t have to act to be convincing. The full cast list is lengthy and it’s littered with faces you’ll recognise but can’t put a name to. I won’t mention them all here, but all of them fit perfectly into the reality of the picture, which is to say you’re never once taken out of the story by a performance that is out of place.
Argo is fascinating, not just because of its many layers and rich screen play, but because it really happened. Well, ok, not all of it. Further research indicates that the role of the Canadian, New Zealand, and British Governments is dramatically underplayed and most of the final 30 minutes dramatic moments are a complete fabrication. It won’t win any awards for accuracy, but in my humble opinion it’s very likely going to win Best Director and Best Picture at this years Oscars. I’m really struggling to find any reason why anyone would dislike this movie, I’m sure that reason exists, but for now I’m happy to call this the first absolute must see of 2012.