Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman
Length: 120 minutes
Ben Affleck is the closest thing there is to a cinematic polymath. He can act, direct, and once won an Oscar for best screenplay. Yet since Good Will Hunting he’s had a rather turbulent career. For every State of Play there has been a Daredevil. However, since moving behind the camera, Affleck’s credibility has seemingly been resurrected from the grave.
In The Town and Gone Baby Gone the action was set in Boston’s grimy criminal underbelly. This unsettling world was presented in a style akin to the classic British kitchen sink dramas. Argo, on the other hand, could not be more different. The narrative focuses on the true story of a CIA attempt to rescue American embassy staff that evaded capture after the brutal 1979 revolution in Iran. Their only way of escape is a bogus science-fiction movie planned by CIA operative, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). The resulting film is a tense and unpredictable gem.
It begins with a chillingly realistic depiction of the embassy’s invasion by a furiously rabid crowd of revolutionaries. I couldn’t help but get an adrenaline kick out of the sense of danger from watching the manic scene. The terror it invokes cannot be rivalled by even the best horror films. From start to finish I was truly immersed in the characters’ jeopardy. Moreover, it felt like I was watching a stylish documentary.
In addition, Affleck’s gritty direction maintains pace right until the end credits. Even though there are laughs in the Hollywood section of the story, overall Argo is a nervy and educational affair. Who says history can’t be exciting, eh?
Although the cast includes only a few recognisable names, the acting is universally impeccable. Having never seen Breaking Bad, I still thought of Bryan Cranston as Hal from Malcolm in the Middle: not after this though. His performance as a weathered old spy was the icing on a truly delicious cake. Also, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Affleck himself are all on top form.
Once again, Affleck has produced a must-see awards contender. Considering relations with Iran were a key foreign policy issue during the recent Presidential election, Argo conveys a far better understanding of the Islamic Revolution than any history textbook.