Whilst looking at the films of 2012, personally, it is a year where independent and art house films have really shown they are here to make an impact upon the movie industry. No longer do these sorts of films have to face relegation in local cinemas, with ridiculous screening slots and lack of promotion but instead they are revered and feared amongst the bigger blockbusters, plus they tend to fill up most critics top 10 lists (I know, I am partly guilty of this). As well as these films, 2012 also so the release of the new James Bond, Skyfall, which last week became the greatest box office grossing film the UK but released around the same time and with slightly less impact was Ben Affleck’s new thriller, Argo.
Even to this day, many have not forgiven Affleck for some of the decisions he has made in the past decade of his career; we try, like many to forget the days of Jenny From The Block and Gigli as well as Daredevil. But after taking some time out of the spotlight, I really do think Affleck has found his calling and I would happy to announce that I think he has become one of the greatest Hollywood director’s that we have today. Call this a relaunch, a comeback, an actor gone director; whatever you want to say, there is no argument that since 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, Affleck has created a brand of Hollywood film he should be proud to put his name towards. I will keep my gushing for Gone Baby Gone and The Town for the impending writing on Affleck elsewhere.
What we are really here to talk about is the outstanding Argo. Now make no bones, I found no issue with this film and I don’t intend to try and discover any whilst writing this review, so if you don’t enjoy completely positive reviews, I’d say this wasn’t for you.
Based upon the books, The Master of Disguise and The Great Escape, Argo tells the story of Tony Mendez (a very bearded Ben Affleck), a CIA operative who is brought in for consultation about a group of American Embassy workers who are taking refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s house in Tehran. In reality, the 1979 Iran hostage crisis lasted 444 days, where the US embassy was stormed by Islamist students and militants in support of the Iranian Revolution. During the invasion, a small group of workers escaped but everyone in the building needed to be accounted for and when the militants realised the workers were missing, they started a search for them. What Argo is very clever in doing, is telling the audience almost instantly that we are not going to be thinking about the other hostages and ultimately we aren’t going to be looking at the crisis that took place, where all these citizens were held for so long. Instead, we are going to be celebrating this mini triumph of managing to get out a small group of hostages back to their homeland. In telling you this from the start of the film, the audience are aware that they no longer need to debate the methods used to stop the situation and they aren’t going to have to look too far into the politics of what happened – instead, we are watching a good ol’ Hollywood story about something America did right.
Ultimately, that is what the story is – a celebration of everything that is American (despite the massive help from the Canadian side) and the ways in which, they are clever enough to utilise a completely different industry (the film industry) to get into Iran and get out their citizens. But really, I didn’t see the issue with this.
The story really starts when Tony plans to create a cover story, which involves telling people that the escapees are actually Canadian filmmakers who are currently looking for exotic locations in Iran for their science fiction film. Mendez is aided by his supervisor, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) in contacting John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist who had previously worked with the CIA. Chambers then puts them in touch with the film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and together they set up a fake film studio and establish the context of developing Argo, their film. From there, Tony must get into Tehran, prep the group about their new identities in case they are questioned and get them onto the airplane back home.
That is the long and the short of it, but along the way there are brilliant sequences where Tony has to meet with his contact from the department of culture to fully immerse himself and those around him in the story that he has made up. A particularly gripping sequence is during an exercise to visiting a bazaar as a location – of course, the escapees aren’t comfortable with being out in the open but they must persuade everyone around them as well as themselves that they are doing this for the film.
Out of nowhere, Argo quickens your pulse, with it’s nerve shredding mission to get these people home and I mean it, out of nowhere. There is nothing that challenging about the storyline; which for a film like this was refreshing as it could have gone about making political points all over the place and instead Affleck has opted to take this historical incident and create a full out, enjoyable, thriller. What really stands out throughout the film is the balance between the set design, props and the cinematography of the film. In aid of making the film like it is set in the 70’s, the film’s grainy colours makes it seems like it has been recorded on film, which clearly places emphasis on the beautiful colours of the sets throughout the film.
As for performances, it is so interesting to study how Affleck moves in his own films. It really seems like he is his own muse as he moves around with a sense of confidence and power, which I honestly don’t think we have seen before. Now, although he may be in charge of the show, he never forgets to completely immerse himself into the character (hence the beard) and it honestly makes you wonder how he did both the directing and acting at the same time. Very interestingly, although there are no poor performances in Argo, everyone else did really feel like a supporting actor or actress to Affleck. With names like John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall and Victor Garber; there really is no end to keeping the audience’s attention.
Personally, I think Argo is the best Hollywood thriller this year, and perhaps for the last few years, where Affleck has taken a leaf out of the books of directors like Hitchcock and Hawks to create a film, which wouldn’t have looked out of place during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Highly recommended to make your heart race. C’mon Affleck, bring us your next!