Since his string of hits like Hollywoodland, Smokin’ Aces and The Town it seems Ben Affleck is incapable of putting a foot wrong. The latest from the actor, producer and director sees the CIA devise a plan to rescue six hostages from the American Embassy during the hostage crisis when the Iranian Revolution peaked in 1979. This seems like unusual subject matter but the intrigue will get even the most dubious cinema-goer on board. It is the fascinating nature of this declassified operation combined with real footage inserted smoothly throughout which gives a real feel for the era and the reality of the situation facing our helpless hostages.
The moustachioed Affleck adds to the dodgy tie, over-sized glasses and slightly ‘socks and sandals’ look invoked in the operations room providing a sense of comedy to proceedings in the face of severe technological limitations. It is in this smoky ops. room that we get the set-up: six hostages stuck in a country experiencing great unrest with the majority of the population searching for the embassy workers to settle their score, how do we get them out?
Once the conundrum is set and we’ve glimpsed the rioting throngs of flag-burning Iranians, up crops ‘the best bad idea we have.’ In comes Tony Mendez, one of the agency’s best, with a rather eccentric pitch. The plan: we fake it as a film crew for a sci-fi movie called ‘Argo’, pretend we’re seeking film locations in Iran, absorb the hostages into the crew and out we head straight to the airport. However, the audience would be greatly mistaken for believing much hilarity and a slow descent into comedy would follow. Although there are laughs throughout, the sense of seriousness is slowly built to the point where the audience is struggling to resist shouting encouragement at the screen. The fact is, this film is incredibly absorbing; the writers don’t engage in predictable love stories or hysterical captives, they do something different. They let you draw your own conclusions and let Affleck display his acting prowess and the dimensions of his character. But above all they let the audience empathise with the characters on a basic human level without needing to know their various relationship histories or all the usual features of over-writing which make the initial scenes of so many movies a drag. Take note film-makers: different is good. Different leads to you finding yourself almost falling off the edge of your seat with tension. This is the sign of a truly great movie.
It is important to mention this film is not all about Affleck. Old hand John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Monsters Inc, The Artist) puts in a great double-act performance with academy award winning Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, Edward Scissorhands, Get Smart) to provide light relief amongst all the nail-biting. One of this film’s strengths is that when such quality acting as a given, more time is spent on the story, the visuals and the writing. One thing is for sure, it definitely shows.