Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Affleck knows how to keep a tight grip on a story, gets better at ratcheting tension with every film, and displays a fearlessness when it comes to mixing genre."

Although Ben Affleck's movie takes a step back in time to the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, his celebration of foreign diplomats - wrapped in a part-comic, part-thriller narrative - feels oddly prescient, given the recent slaying of a US ambassador in Libya and turmoil at several other embassies worldwide. And the latest directorial outing from the star also goes to further prove that he's not just a pretty face. Affleck knows how to keep a tight grip on a story, gets better at ratcheting tension with every film and displays a fearlessness when it comes to mixing genre.

Back in 1979, when moustaches and beards came as standard and floppy hair on men was considered the height of fashion, Iran was in revolutionary flux. This became a problem for the US when a group of militants stormed the country's embassy in Tehran and captured 66 hostages, 52 of whom would be held for more than a year as their plight played out across the international media. Far from the madding crowd of publicity, however, there was another - altogether more fantastical - story going on, one that didn't become public knowledge until it was declassified in 1997.

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The story, of how six diplomats escaped the embassy lockdown and found themselves hiding out at the Canadian Ambassador's house as the US fretted how to get them out forms the crux of Affleck's film - which he shoots in the grainy, rough and tumble style of the period. Desperate to get the escapees home before they became 'showpiece' execution fodder, the CIA alight on the "best bad idea" they have - to create a fully-functioning science-fiction film set up and sneak the diplomats out while ostensibly on a location shoot. You couldn't make it up - or, at least, it's hard to believe that they did.

But Tony Mendez (Affleck) is determined, and enlists the help of prosthetics whizz John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to make the film, if not quite a reality, then the closest thing to it. The result is Argo - "a $20million Star Wars rip-off". Affleck, Goodman and Arkin play much of this set-up for laughs, a decision which may look strange on paper but which, in practice means that the stark, tense reality of the situation for the six stuck in Iran is shown in all the more gripping relief.

Arkin and Goodman are on playful form but Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio never let them dominate the story, while he sinks so deeply into the role of Mendez that it's easy to forget he's in there. Once the action switches to Iran, the heat is on and Affleck turns up the tension as the day of the diplomats escape nears which, although taking perhaps one too many liberties with the truth in the name of action sequences will still ensure your nails are down to the quick by the end credits.

That Affleck caps it all off with a flurry of flag-waving - featuring among other things, a voice-over from Jimmy Carter himself - is all a bit over the top, but there's so much that is good about the film that, by then, you'll be willing to let him smuggle in some patriotism.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2012
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A CIA agent attempts to rescue six trapped Americans during the 1979 Iranian revolution.
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Director: Ben Affleck

Writer: Joshuah Bearman, Chris Terrio

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver

Year: 2012

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Turkey


London 2012
SSFF 2012

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