Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, is simply a terrific movie. For his third outing behind the camera, after those excellent Boston-set thrillers Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck chooses this amazing story of one of the most improbable rescue missions in modern history…the kind of story you’d never believe, except that it’s based on true events.
There are three very distinct storylines at play here – the ticking-clock tension of the six refugees in Iran, the machinations of the CIA and US foreign politics in Washington, and the comic relief in Hollywood where a make-up wiz (John Goodman) and a seen-it-all-producer (Alan Arkin) treat this fake movie as a real project. It’s a testament to Affleck’s remarkable directorial skills that he meshes the three tracks seamlessly to create a coherent and gripping film with a tone that alternates nicely between funny and suspenseful.
The acting is top notch from everyone involved. Affleck himself gives a low-key, well-nuanced performance as the conscience of this film; Bryan Cranston is superb as his no-nonsense CIA boss. But it’s John Goodman and Alan Arkin who get all the clever one-liners and all the best laughs as a pair of jaded movie veterans. A word here also for the excellent casting of the actors playing the six American escapees – you’re never given a back-story for these characters but they play their parts competently, and you can’t help rooting for them. In one of the film’s most tense scenes, where they navigate nervously through a busy market in Tehran, their fear is palpable, and you find yourself on the edge of your seat as a result. In the film’s race-against-time climax, you’re literally chewing your nails, hoping for their safety.
Argo takes some liberties with the truth, exaggerating certain incidents, and inventing characters who didn’t exist in the real story (Alan Arkin’s film producer is reportedly a creation by screenwriter Chris Terrio). But Affleck gives the film a lived-in, authentic feel with minute period details and dialogue that never feels scripted.
I’m going with four out of five for Ben Affleck’s Argo. You’ll come out feeling like you’ve just enjoyed a wholesome, satisfying meal. Don’t miss it.