Ben Affleck’s third feature, Argo, is based on real life events about a covert CIA operation in Iran in the 1980s. Affleck’s tight handling of the story, the convincing ensemble cast and a sense of humour ensure that this period thriller engages you from start to finish.
‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ is probably what the most creatively deficient of us would have to say about Argo. Ben Affleck’s third feature as director is based on real life events so extraordinary that had this story emerged directly from the imagination of a writer, audiences would have scoffed at how far-fetched it seems.
In 1979, revolutionaries in Iran stormed the US embassy in protest of the US custody of religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, a wanted man in Iran. As over 50 US citizens were held hostage, six of them managed to escape the embassy, seeking refuge at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador. Tony Mendez, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist was then brought in to hatch a plan to pull out those six from Iran, because every Iranian revolutionary was baying for American blood.
Right from the time the film rolls, what it manages to get dead right is the feel of it - the Warner Bros logo that appears is not the shield logo that we are now accustomed to, but the one used during the time period in which this film is set. From then on, the viewer is sucked in to the grainy, dated feel of the images, the clothes and look of the actors, little details like the dilapidated Hollywood Sign in an establishing shot of LA and of course, the urgency of the actual story being told.
The brisk pace and gritty tone of the film combines with its audaciously thrilling plot to create one of the more entertaining thrillers seen this year. A film that, for the most, remains faithful to the serious story of American citizens treading the thin line between life and death, without losing its dry sense of humour and its quite simple agenda of engaging and entertaining.
Affleck handles the film with the deft hand of a seasoned filmmaker. Don’t forget, this is the man who won his first Academy Award for co-writing Good Will Hunting at the age of 25. Structured and built like most thrillers are, Affleck manages to inject the right amount of tension at every step of the film. The result is that one can almost feel the entire cinema hall’s collective rising and falling anxiety as the plan slowly begins playing itself out. Alexandre Desplat’s music score plays its bit in adding to the tension.
Affleck also directs the ensemble cast to perfection - Bryan Cranston as the CIA honcho handling the operation is excellent, even though the character itself isn’t something one hasn’t seen before. Victor Garber’s sheer presence seems to justify why he was cast as the Canadian Ambassador who willingly offers shelter to the American refugees. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are excellent as well. And even though one does see his regular twitches and sighs throughout the film, Affleck’s own performance as Tony Mendez hits all the right notes. He looks convincing as the committed, sincere ‘exfil spesh’ dealing with his own personal demons while handling one of the most important covert operations in the CIA’s history.
Admittedly, the pace of the film does drop along the way, particularly when it often (albeit briefly) tends to drift into Tony Mendez’s personal back-story. The film also goes on a little longer than is necessary at the end. A few minutes shaved off here and there could really tighten the screws and possibly improved the overall experience of the film. Still, Argo is a film that I would highly recommend, even though there is a good chance that you’ll make a meal of your fingernails by the end of it.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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