Sunday, December 16, 2012


movie review: in the picture

Argo ****1/2

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, and Chris Messina
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Tagline: The movie was fake. The mission was real.

In the midst of the 1979 Iranian revolution, six members of the U.S. Embassy staff evaded capture by protestors and sought refuge at the house of the Canadian ambassador, where they remained in hiding for weeks. The story of their rescue forms the basis of Argo, an exciting thriller that effortlessly engrosses the viewer for its two hour runtime.

The tension is palpable from the get go and never lets up. Argo recounts the tale as the six diplomats flee the American Embassy in Tehran that is taken over by protestors and its staff taken hostage, and then find themselves holed up in the residence of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) with no way to go anywhere because of the widespread unrest and anti-American sentiments running high in the country. Back in the U.S., the authorities struggle to find a way to bring the personnel back. Days turn into weeks and no rescue appears to be forthcoming, until CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) dreams up a seemingly bizarre scheme - it involves false identities and a fake Hollywood science-fiction thriller!

In an era where Star Wars has captivated the world, the development of a new sci-fi film is perhaps as good a cover story as any. Embraced as the “best bad idea” on the table, the plan is set into motion. The script for a film named Argo is selected, and with the details hammered out, Mendez sets off for Iran, posing as a producer scouting for locations, with the American diplomats disguised as the film’s crew; his mission is to pass them off as Canadian filmmakers, get them on a plane, and bring them back home.

Having previously directed solid projects like Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ben Affleck knows how to deliver an impressive film, and with Argo he doesn’t disappoint. Affleck skilfully puts together the action taking place in disparate settings, creating a seamless narrative that never feels incongruent or disjoint. And it helps that he’s working with a capable crew. Chris Terrio’s screenplay and Rodrigo Prieto’s vintage-looking cinematography come together harmoniously to create a smooth canvas for the events to unfold; you know the eventual outcome of the caper, but the tension remains relentless, and the Aaron Sorkin-esque quality of the proceedings works well for the film. The acting across the board is top notch. The brilliant Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Victor Garber are all reliably proficient, and their performances are appropriately nuanced. And while some might fault Affleck for giving himself the lead role, there is no cause for complaint here as he easily pulls off the part with casual confidence.

Grippingly tense and darkly comic, Argo delivers intelligently and consistently, and even though it does fall victim to a few unnecessary contrivances at the end, it never fails to be exciting. The movie lets you feel the urgency and the panic of its subjects, and for the most part doesn’t drown you in a sea of sensationalized frenzy. Argo is swiftly paced and well acted, with a smart script and competent direction, and is definitely one of the standout films of the year.

– Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 16th December, 2012

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