A country’s people expect that their government will protect them. It’s the basic responsibility of any administration, yet so often a position of power is squandered for political gain or strapped down by red tape. Argo is a brilliant look at the detrimental effects of major political decisions and the accountability a country has to its people when things go wrong - served up in a neat little thriller. Based on true events, in 1979, the American embassy in Iran is attacked by Iranian revolutionaries and several Americans are taken hostage. However, six manage to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA is tasked with getting them out of the country.
Actor/director Ben Affleck cleverly puts the setting in context with a brief history lesson on relations between Iran and America, told via storyboards, that builds impetus before the attack on the embassy in the opener. The stakes are set high and the political gambit of America meddling with Iran is represented on screen like karma coming to hunt down the nation and the people who represent its ideals. From here the stage is set to tell a grand tale and Affleck handles it like a master storyteller.
Affleck takes the time to deconstruct the politics of the situation while stopping off in Hollywood for some light satire before getting into the nitty gritty of getting the Americans safely home. It’s captivating filmmaking with the lives of the Americans in danger hovering over every scene. It’s a cracking screenplay by Chris Terrio who keeps the story on a knife’s edge throughout and the outcome is astounding. Affleck’s direction is superb and the final thirty minutes alone might result in claw marks appearing on armrests.
The cast aka the Argo all-stars are all great no matter how big or small the role is. Affleck bears the weight of his character’s conflict throughout as the man put in charge of coming up with the plan. Bryan Cranston, Chris Messina and Kyle Chandler bring life to the corridors of power they inhabit in Washington, while on the Hollywood side John Goodman and Alan Arkin revel in their opportunity to poke fun at the filmmaking process. On the ground in Iran, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scott McNairy, Rory Cochran, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishe give terrific performances to remind us what’s at stake if it all goes wrong.
Affleck does get a little heavy handed when implying what future headaches the US has after the film’s main conflict is finished and it’s like a warning 30 years too late.
Beneath the surface of Argo is a message about responsibility and the dangers of bureaucracy when lives are at risk. Hold on tight and revel in the brilliance of a riveting film that’s enthralling in execution and subtext.
[rating=4] and half stars
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies