Something that’s fascinating is a film that succesfully maintains its suspense and holds the viewer’s attention throughout, in spite of not being a spectacular 007 action flick with lots of explosions and special effects. Sometimes a scene where the fate of the main characters depends on a phone call being answered on the right time, before it’s too late, is enough to create something genuinely nail-biting.
Argo, being based on true events, happens to be a film of that very kind. It is directed by and starring Ben Affleck and tells the story of a CIA agent who rescued a group of important people during the hostage crisis of Iran around the end of the 70’s. As far as films based on true stories go, this is a pretty good one.
The important people in danger are six embassy members who have escaped angry militants in Tehran, who are angered by what the nation has done with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and now intend to strike back where it hurts. The six escaped ones hide in the local residence of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) and are forced to remain there until the CIA can think of a plan to get them safely out of there.
Agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) has an idea to save these people, though. He intends to assemble a movie team – writers, make-up artists, a cast, the works – and convince the world that a science fiction movie called Argo is being produced and that Iran is the location where they will chose to shoot. This will enable him to get close to the hostages and free them, but this means that they too need to join in on the act and pretend to be in Iran for the sake of location scouting. He also manages to get some Hollywood big shots to help orchestrating the whole thing, such as make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Hilarity in the form of Hollywood satire ensues, right before the film gets genuinely intense.
By the way, Mendez’ supervisor at the CIA, Jack O’Donnell, is portrayed by Bryan Cranston. Is that man in every film this year? It’s not a bad thing, mind you, it just seems like he’s got his work cut out.
The scenes with John Goodman and Alan Arkin provide some really funny satire aimed at Hollywood, as well as endearing references to great films that were current at the time, such as Star Wars, Planet of The Apes and Star Trek. Perhaps the film should’ve focused more on that? The more emotional scenes set within the subplot of the hostages might slow things down somewhat for some viewers.
But surely they will feel intrigued and invested as the film nears its climax and the time comes to get the hostages out? At least they will hopefully agree that it’s pretty fascinating the way Affleck keeps your attention with something as casual as risking to miss a flight. Think of his acting whichever way you please, as a director he’s very skilled and is good at creating suspense from relatable scenarios, when he isn’t busy paying homage to some great classics, that is. Another strongpoint is the casting, as proven in a slideshow during the end credits, which shows the uncanny resemblance between the actors and the real people involved in the hostage crisis.
There are certain points where Argo could’ve been edited and cut down for the greater good, but with it’s great sense of humour, colorful cast and a sense of nostalgia for those old enough to remember this time period, it makes up for it.
Something funny happened during my screening, though. When the film began playing, something went really, really wrong with the projector and the movie was presented to us in glorious pink-and-green as if someone has smeered the lens with Donatello the turtle’s vomit. Thankfully, this was fixed nearly immediately.