DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind whilst watching Argo is that it is ‘based on a true story’. The latest directorial effort from Ben Affleck tells the story of an actual, remarkable CIA rescue mission that took place during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. In order to rescue six stranded diplomats, hostage extraction specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) devises a plan to pose as a movie producer and retrieve the six Americans by disguising them as his film crew. However, in order to give the ruse credence, he also needs to create a fake movie, and therefore enlists the help of Hollywood producer Lester Siegal, played by a fantastically curmudgeonly Allan Arkin.
What follows is a taut suspense thriller, with occasional comic relief provided by the film’s satirical look at the movie industry. Affleck pulls these disparate elements together well, with the lighter moments providing a much-needed respite from the nail-biting tension of the scenes in Iran.
Yet the film’s gritty and realistic tone is ultimately undercut by Affleck’s treatment of the last act of the story, which, while undoubtedly rousing, becomes overly sentimental and mawkish. This preference for an overtly ‘Hollywood’ ending also undermined Affleck’s previous film as director, the otherwise excellently tough The Town. It is difficult, too, not to take issue with Argo’s worryingly reductive portrayal of the Iranian people, who are shown either as furious members of an angry mob or patronisingly easily distracted border guards.
Yet perhaps to politicise Argo is to ask too much of it. Despite its source material, Argo is not a political film. It is a true Hollywood movie, and taken as such, it is difficult not to recommend.