DVD review: ARGO (2012)

‘With Ben Affleck’s next directorial project being a solo Batman film coming out next year following on from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to re-watch and review his three previous films he’s directed in the order of years they were released in.’

Directed by Ben Affleck

Screenplay written by Chris Terrio

Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver & Bob Gunton

UK release date: 7th November 2012

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GENERAL STORYLINE

As the Iranian Revolution takes over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, six Americans escape. Now only one man can get them out from behind enemy lines. Tony Mendez (Affleck) is a brilliant CIA agent who specialises in impossible escapes, but his new plan is as daring as it is desperate. 

THE GOOD

Winner of three BAFTAs and three OSCARs including best film, best director and best editing; its safe to assume that Ben Affleck has truly outdone himself as a director with this one, an actor turned director who’s here to stay. Based on a harrowing true story that involved extremely high risks for all of its main protagonists, this film demonstrates Affleck at his most comfortable and masterful while sitting back once again in the director’s chair. Carrying on tradition from his work on The Town, he again acts both in front and behind the camera but this time leaves all screenplay responsibilities to Chris Terrio. Not that that hardly matters though when his direction is this good. We already know he picks his cast members carefully and remarkably well, but the cast for this film is his best ensemble yet having recruited some of the best acting veterans that have been working in the industry for a long time with the likes of John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Philip Baker Hall, among many others.

Set against the Iranian revolution in November 1979, the film is centred on six Americans who are forced to escape with their lives from the U.S embassy in Tehran after being invaded and attacked by Iranian revolutionaries. They’re quickly able to find safe refuge within the official residence of the Canadian ambassador but with the situation being a highly dangerous one, the CIA are ordered to get them out of there and back on American soil as soon as humanly possible. But having run out of all noteworthy, convincing enough ideas and with the clock ticking away, they turn to fellow agent and exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck), a member of the CIA who is trained to specialise in situations like these and after wracking his brain to come up with a suitable foolproof plan, he gets struck with a sudden brainwave to take on the fake role of a Hollywood big shot producer to make a fake Science Fiction movie and shoot it in Iran i.e. the perfect cover up to smuggle out the six Americans as its fake production film crew. And all it took to come up with this idea was to watch the original Planet of The Apes on television one evening during a mid telephone conversation with his geeky son. Before long, its referred to in America’s top spy agency as the best bad idea they’ve had, by far; and so the wheels get set in motion for this top secret and highly delicate operation to get the go ahead for Mendez to lead the six Americans out of there himself.
With the enlisted help from John Chambers (Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist who coincidentally administered all of the make-up work on the Planet of The Apes film franchise, as well as film producer Lester Siegel (Arkin); all three of them must work together to make sure that this plan not only fools the Iranians for it to actually work but also fool everyone else in thinking this is going to be the next big Hollywood smash hit since Star Wars that’s already well into its pre-production stage.

With all this going on, its quite crazy to believe this was closely based on an unbelievable true story where the stakes were so high and where a single mistake could cost the lives of both Mendez and all six Americans. Not only was it vital for all six of them to know their resumes inside out overnight for each of their roles of this film crew supposedly scouting locations to shoot a film, but also to stay calm, don’t panic or break out a single sweat when arriving to catch their plane home from the airport; easier said than done when it just happens to be the most heavily guarded and most watched airport in Iran thanks to them becoming the most wanted group of fugitives at such a dangerous period in time.

Affleck is also out of his comfort zone for the first time here, making a film that unlike his first two, isn’t set in his hometown of Boston. Also, dare I say it but I feel that after having made three films now, he feels a lot more comfortable in his own skin as a director, knowing how to tell a good story and keeping audience members on the edge of their seats the whole way through. He’s gone from a kind of amateur film-maker to an auteur within the space of just three movies, not something most actors turned directors can easily attest to due to the role being a lot more physically demanding.

Affleck pretty much gave me a film that I really responded to by not only providing audiences a story of survival that is both gripping and wholly intense, but also offering some great comedic moments, excellent character work and an added science fiction element for good measure making this his most crowning achievement by far. Combining a nail biting thriller with science fiction fantasy was such a good call, especially with the latter being one of my most favourable go to film genres. Its like I had the best of both worlds with this movie.

THE BAD

Amidst all the excitement and high appraisal, I’ve now come to a bit of a standstill struggle when trying to think of something – if anything – that was actually bad about this movie. Again its just one little nitpick for me relating to the plot. I felt after seeing all the careful planning that Mendez, Chambers and Siegel took upon themselves to make sure this crazy idea worked, it just didn’t leave much room to focus on the danger and risks that the Canadian Ambassador and his wife were taking after taking the escaped Americans into their home and keeping them placed under hiding from all the Iranian authorities. Having a little bit more focus on this area of the plot would have definitely bought the tension of the film up a few more notches. But like I said, thats just a minor nibble in a film where the positives clearly outweigh the negatives by a considerably long mile.

OVERALL VERDICT

Arguably the best film Affleck has made in his new found film career. Not is it entertaining, funny in places as well as serious where it needs to be but it also educated me by bringing me great insight into an historical event that I had little to no knowledge of beforehand. The ending is one of the most heart stopping suspenseful climaxes I’ve seen in a long time, one that you hope the protagonists can get out safely and make it out alive.

Rating: ★ 1/2

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