As usual, Alex and I were sceptical about doing the thing that everyone else was keen on. However after consulting Rotten Tomatoes and finding that not a single reviewer said ill of Argo, we agreed that we probably should see it for ourselves.
Argo is the latest film from actor/director Ben Affleck, a man who had until recently had been little more than a name to me. The film dramatises a 1980 exfiltration mission in revolutionary Iran. A very brief explanation at the beginning of the film explains the Iranians irate stance towards the USA, but afterwards, for all intents and purposes, you may as well believe that all Iranians are bloodthirsty maniacs who want to kill Americans for their own perverse pleasure.
Indeed this is my main problem with the film; besides the story-setting at the beginning, the film is seen entirely from an American point of view. The Iranians as a collective form a single unified antagonist that Ben Affleck and his chums have to subvert and outwit throughout the film.
However, once you can wrap your head around the thoroughly simplistic ‘Americans are good/Iranians are bad’ principle, you can begin to enjoy what is otherwise a well executed story. Bryan Cranston (Hal from Malcolm in the Middle) is drawing up a mission to try and rescue six American diplomats who are currently taking refuge in the Canadian Embassy in Tehran. Affleck believes that the best way to do this is to pretend that the diplomats are actually Canadians searching for a desert to shoot a made-up film. Thus, Argo is born.
The first half of the movie, when Affleck is sorting out the details in Washington and Hollywood, moves a little slowly, and we barely see the diplomats at all. In fact, the diplomats seem to be taking it easy, drinking and playing card games with no responsibilities. Once the action moves to the Middle East however, the drama becomes markedly more tense. As an American in Iran, Affleck has to be on the lookout at all times. After all, saying that you are Canadian as an American is a rather thin disguise.
Yet it seems to work! The fact that the Iranians are prepared to tear the Americans to shreds but don’t look twice when a Canadian passes by is almost laughable. Naturally, some of the tension in the film arises when the diplomats are made to prove their Canadianness. The tension rises and rises to a gripping climax near the end of the film, and Affleck milks it for all its worth, using every nail-biting second in a most effective way.
A lot of attention has been paid to detail in this film. Company logos, technology and even hairdos are made to resemble the year 1980. In a clever move, the diplomats appear to have been cast based on how much they look like the original diplomats. Affleck shows off by giving comparison photos during the credits. When Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ is played, an appropriate looking Atlantic label LP is shown on a turntable, and the needle is placed at roughly the correct point. If it had been placed at the edge of the record, this would have been a mistake, since ‘Levee’ appears last on Led Zep IV. These are the sort of little details I like in a film. However there are a handful of goofs; I was quite surprised when Affleck was seen walking into the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, only to appear in the next scene in the Hagia Sophia, an entirely different mosque. It also appears that the dilapidated Hollywood sign as shown in the film was a detail too far, as it had already been restored by the end of 1978.
Nevertheless, Argo is a worthwhile film full of grit, drama and, most of all, tension, all based on a pretty awesome true story. I have full confidence in Ben Affleck an actor and a director.