It must be tough to have your film labelled as the early frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. I say ‘tough’ when I really mean ‘fucking awesome’, but I do get that there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with that tag. And that’s the position that Ben Affleck finds himself in with his third film as director, Argo, the ‘true’ story of the rescue of six American diplomats from war-torn Iran. It has all the hallmarks of an ‘in contention’ film- political message, period detail, relentless dramatic tension- to the point where you suspect that much of it has been engineered by the studio with awards season in mind. Still, Argo is a very good film and that shouldn’t get lost amidst its slightly over the top worthiness.
The plot of the film sees six American diplomats holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s house in Tehran whilst Iranian dissidents have occupied the US embassy. It’s Ben Affleck’s job to try and bust them out and the ingenious idea he comes up with is to pose as a Canadian movie crew on a location scout to Tehran. As you can imagine, this true story opens up the possibilities for both drama and comedy, and whilst the movie isn’t out and out funny, the scenes with John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Affleck back in LA certainly have a different tone to the Tehran set sequences. Which isn’t to say that they’re jarring at all, if there’s anything that Argo does with supreme confidence and ability, it’s juggling the tone of the movie without upsetting the overall balance of the piece.
Argo does suffer horribly from ‘nick of time’ syndrome; where, literally, everything happens only seconds before certain disaster. But what that does manage to do is make the third act almost unbearably tense- the airport sequence, in particular, is an excellent piece of filmmaking that draws on what Affleck learned from his masterful bank raid sequence in The Town. As a result, Argo is a film that has some sort of patriotic message (possibly about international cooperation, who knows?) but that’s buried beneath a film that is a lot of fun. This is proper adult popcorn cinema and, whilst that doesn’t make it a masterpiece, that’s in no way a bad thing.
Beautifully constructed and perfectly tense, Argo is a film that has all the components of serious cinema but is really just a joy to watch.
|Starring:||Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Scoot McNairy|
|Running Time :||Circa 2 hours|