You couldn’t make it up if you tried. Ben Affleck’s movie career that is, not the plot of this genre defying award winner. The fact that both tales are based on fact only adds to the intrigue, with the star of Gigli and Forces of Nature (remember that?) taking his self-proclaimed ‘second act’ to brand new heights. If Gone Baby Gone and The Town suggested a desire to follow in the footsteps of Eastwood and Clooney, Argo provides proof that one day he might well surpass them.
Based on real events, Argo kicks off in 1979 with the Iranian revolution reaching boiling point. In a nail-biting opener, militants storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 hostages alive. Six Americans escape the chaos and take refuge in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. It’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered, but with all eyes on American civilians, it’s going to take a miracle – or the best of some very bad ideas – to get the escapees out alive.
Enter Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and a plan so ridiculous it can only be based on fact. Tony teams up with FX guru John Chambers (John Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) in an attempt to convince not only the Iranian government, but Hollywood too, that they’re Canadian filmmakers scouting locations for a Star Wars rip off called Argo. Or in the words of the filmmakers themselves, ‘Ar-go fuck yourselves’.
The premise is appealing but potentially alienating too, with the prospect of Hollywood satire blending awkwardly with hostage negotiations and public executions. Ben pulls it off though, providing sweaty palms aplenty in the opening act, light relief as the caravan of courage moves to Hollywood, and gripping tension as we head towards a rousing climax.
Arkin and Goodman seem to be having a whale of a time and bag the best lines, but it’s Ben who makes the deepest impact. Gone baby gone are the days of gung-ho heroics and cocky self-assurance. Mendez is an educated thoughtful man, only too happy to blend in, but with Affleck on his best behaviour in years, the performance stands out all the same. Shame then that the six escapees don’t get more screen time. Their gripping plight seems to act as filler at times when it should’ve taken centre stage. Richer characterisation would have added to the nail biting tension of the final act, a finale not without merit but lacking a little in emotional punch.
Clooney recently posed the question, “If this is Ben’s second act, what’s he got planned for act three?” Argo not only supports Ben’s growth in confidence as a filmmaker; it also plays like a damn good espionage thriller. At one point in the movie it’s suggested you can “teach a rhesus monkey to be a director in a day”, but it’s Ben’s contemporaries who’ll be aping him after this. AW