Ben Affleck directs this oddball mix of political thriller and showbiz satire, based on a true story
There are times when Ben Affleck’s Argo feels like it’s ready to career violently off the rails. That it doesn’t is arguably down to the film’s unswerving belief in its ‘truth-is-stranger-than-fiction’ story. His third film as director, following Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck turns the clock back to 1979, when Islamist militants took control of the US Embassy in Iran. While 52 Americans were held hostage for over a year, six escaped and took refuge in the Canadian Embassy.
Enter Affleck’s CIA suit Tony Mendez, who is charged with the task of bringing this sextet home safely. The plan? To pose as a film producer, pretend his charges are his crew on a location scout, and fly them right out of Iran under the noses of the guards. Arriving with a genuine script for a science-fiction fantasy called Argo, Mendez even recruits Alan Arkin’s Hollywood producer and John Goodman’s special effects whiz to give credence to the project.
This oddball mix of political thriller and showbiz satire is not always a particularly comfortable juxtaposition. One minute, we’re watching The Bourne Identity, the next Get Shorty, as we bounce from a tension-filled Tehran to sun-kissed California. Still, as Bryan Cranston’s CIA big-wig puts it, ‘This is the best bad idea we have’ – and part of this mix of tones comes from the sheer lunacy of the plan in the first place.
What goes in favour of the film is the authenticity with which Affleck captures events – notably the raid on the US Embassy that opens the film. There are some terrific performances too (notably Scoot McNairy as one of the six escapees), though if anything irritates, it’s the rather ‘Hollywood ending’ that takes quite a few liberties with actual events. A shame, because until this final reel, this is one truly taut experience.
General release from Wed 10 Oct.