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Film Review: Argo

12th November 2012

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Argo is Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort, following 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s The Town. Both of these films were well received by both critics and audiences – but does Argo keep up this successful streak?

Yes, it does.

Based on events surrounding the escape from Tehran of six diplomats after the 1979 storming of the US Embassy by students and militants, the high-stakes, life-or-death premise is set early on. Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA operative who dreams up a plan to rescue the six through the use Hollywood subterfuge: so six new identities, a film that will never be made, and one potential chance to escape from one of the bloodiest countries in the world. 

Light is not a word that can be used to describe Argo. Coming as a direct result of the Iranian Revolution, the almost unimaginable level of danger that the Embassy workers are in is apparent from the opening seconds and doesn’t fade for a second during the following two hours.

In a country where Americans are the ultimate enemy and dissenters are publically executed and strung from lampposts as a warning, we feel the horrific situation that the six are in deeply. Why is this?

Firstly, the script is exceptional. Despite the prevalence of talking (planning a diplomatic mission through between both US and Canadian governments takes a lot of talking) there do not seem to be any wasted words. The dialogue is as tight and well thought out as the plan that Mendez comes up with to spirit the endangered six away.

Alan Arkin’s performance as Lester Siegel, the film producer drafted in by Mendez to oversee the development of the fake Hollywood movie, is a highlight. Arkin’s ability to bring humour to such an apparently stark situation adds an unexpected dimension to the film, and is yet again a way that distinguishes itself from typical, relentlessly dramatic, thriller territory.

That we are constantly reminded of the real people and events behind the production adds unquestionably to the film’s power. Set-pieces are based on photographs taken at the time; scenes accurately recreate video footage taken seconds before the Embassy was stormed. The blurring of real and fake is reflective of the events that Mendez orchestrates, and is best seen during a read-through of the film that is never to be made.

The events of Argo are more nerve-racking than anything that could’ve been dreamt up by Hollywood. But of course they were.... kind of. Oh, subterfuge.

Anyway, the verdict. 2013 award winner? I think so. 

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