From the very disappointing Skyfall, it is my pleasure to review the surprisingly brilliant, yet vastly understated Argo.
This movie needs no flashy gimmics or multimillion pound (or dollar) product placements. No, Argo is one of those films where you leave the cinema with that feeling that you have witnessed a future classic.
The premise of the movie reads like those trashy crime/thriller novels, yet the events are in fact based on true events. (Though I wasn’t born at the time the movie is set)
During the 1979 uprising/riots in Iran, the US embassy was stormed and all but six of the US diplomats were taken hostage. This film is about how the CIA used a very cobalt operation in order to get them out. The odds are stacked against them and the risk is high. The CIA turns to Ben Afflecks character, Tony Mendez, an expert in extracting targets from volatile areas.
Many scenarios are put forward, but with the current political and social climate at that point, every single one is shot down. It seems hopeless and the six fugitives are hidden in the Canadian consulate, waiting to be resuced.
Now, whether this point is true or not, it is hard to tell. While Mendez is watching either a Planet of the Apes movie or the TV show and talking to his son over the phone, he comes up with a brilliant idea. He could sneak into the country under an assumed Canadian alias as part of a Candain film company and extract the fugitives with the same cover story. The purpose of the visit is to scout out locations for a sci-fi film. The idea is so ludicrous that it may just work.
Now, I hear you cry, this seems all very simple. Get the fake I.D’s and get the fugitives out. But no, in order for this to be a success, the film has to appear real. And so, Mendez turns to John Chambers, played by John Goodman. Chambers was the special affects artist behind the Planet of the Apes movies. With his help, they manage to get Lester Seigel, played by Alan Arkin. After Googling the name, I found out that this is a fictional character, encompassing many industry bigwigs of the time. Seigel helps pull the fake film together, so far as finding a screenplay, having a press conference with a read through with the cast and setting up an office for the production company.
I could go over every little detail of the plot, but needless to say that the plan is a success and the fugitives do get out. That is not to say that it isn’t without its hiccups and roadblocks along the way.
Now as I stated earlier on, I wasn’t born around this time and I don’t know how much of this film is true and how much of it is fiction to help dramatise or beef up the story. It really doesn’t matter, because this is a fantastic bit of film making.
Affleck really shows his flair for filmmaking with this one. It is a film that needs no big set pieces for it really is a human piece. When the American staff are all trapped in the consulate, with the crowd of protestors baying for their blood, you can feel the terror and the helplessness of them. They are stranded in a foreign country, far from home. Some hold on to the belief that this compound is American soil and that the protestors will not dare cross the line. This proves to be a false hope and as they storm the place, taking everyone hostage it becomes heart wrenching to watch.
Though the plight of the six fugitives is interesting, the parts I found most harrowing were the brief glimpses of those still in the compound. One scene in particular was when a number of the Americans were rounded up, blindfolded and taken down into the basement. My heart leapt into my throat as I saw them lined up, their captors raising their guns to them. As they pulled the trigger, I dreaded the worse only to witness that the guns were not loaded. One of the captives falls to his knees, realising that his time had not come. For me, that scene will stick out for a long time.
Afflecks character was a ghost; an enigma that you never really got to know. I suppose that this was a requirement of his job. Therefor I never really grew any attachment at all to him. It could have been any other actor and it wouldn’t have mattered.
For a very dark film, it also had its lighter moments thanks to Arkins character, Seigel. He was that dark humour that compensated for what could have been a very dreary film. I have liked Arkin since his role in Little Miss Sunshine. Here, he has all the best lines and the whole cinema burst out laughing at a soon to be well quoted catchphrase.
Goodman has come a long way from his role in Roseanne. Again, he has very few scenes, but he and Arkin work well together. There is a sense that these two know the business well and have been through many situations together.
As for the actual hostages, we are given a bit of a backstory to each of them, but very few of them are stand out characters. There are a couple of moments where some of the actors get to shine, once in the busy marketplace (a fake scouting mission in order to solidify their new identities) and once at the airport when it looks like they have been rumbled. In each of these situations, you could sympathise with these people. One false step and it would be almost certain death. Its gripping stuff to watch as you wait for their façade to crumble.
After having reservations about this film, I am glad I went to see it. I know it is wrong and difficult to compare Skyfall and Argo, since both are completely different genres of film, but it does highlight the fact that a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily mean a better film.
This is a brilliant polical thriller, with some stellar performance all round. It is difficult to pick one stand out actor for the entire cast did a brilliant job. For something a little bit different, I suggest trying to catch this. As the say, the truth is stranger than fiction
RATING: 4.5 Stars
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
STARRING: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Tate Donavan