Friday, 26 April 2013

Film Review: Argo

by Will Hine

Set in the dusty capital of 1980’s Iran, Ben Affleck’s Argo is a gripping account of the extraction of US diplomats from an extremely hostile part of the world. With a deep historical context, Argo sets the scene with an introduction briefing the audience on the history of the nation. A time and part of the world ravaged with an overturned throne, an aggravated, politically disillusioned populous with a great hatred of the United States Argo sets the hostility of the scene using technique to place the audience with the 6 diplomats, smothered by the crowds of the grand bazaar, for instance. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is an ex-fil agent working for the CIA, and upon the storming of the US embassy in Iran by an enraged mob, he must devise a plan to extract the US citizens from the Middle East without getting caught; with failure being an embarrassing international incident for the United States, as well as the deaths of Mendez and the stranded diplomats. Perhaps the more gripping angle of the story is that it is based on a real-life case, declassified by Bill Clinton in 1997.

Affleck’s attention to detail is paramount in Argo, and benefits the quality of the picture tremendously. From the vintage Warner Bros. logo in the opening title, to Mendez’s eureka moment coming from watching grainy footage of Battle for the Planet of the Apes with his son on a bulky television set, it does a tremendous job to immerse the audience into 1979/80. The footage of the classic sci-fi flick is not the only testament to 70’s film. The clutter of sci-fi memorabilia in his son’s room perhaps nods to an audience member with fond childhood memories of a similar scene. It can be noted that Argo sits so well into 70’s Americana that it could quite easily fit into the period of film itself. Everything from music to questionable facial hair is accounted for in Argo.

(source: Daily Telegraph)
During scenes in Tehran, the Iranian capital, the gripping narrative is coupled with some memorable set pieces, including a nervy, hair-raising scene in the Grand Bazaar as well as the interrogation by a paranoid Iranian militia officer at the international airport. It’s real edge-of-the-seat cinema; a gradual build up is countered by the blind panic and rush of the final third of the film leading to an explosive conclusion.

A neatly executed antidote to an otherwise serious film, aspects of Argo include comedic value. From Mendez’s mixing with Hollywood filmmakers, several jokes are made making general assumptions of Hollywood as a whole; it’s clear these have comical significance to those within the industry but these are appreciated by the viewer, too. The dry humour of the co-operating Hollywood industry man Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) in coming up with the groups’ in-joke, ‘Argof***yourself’ gives the film not only a lively personality but a likeable one also.

At times, the plot can seem a little too good to be true, and that’s because it is. As mentioned in the opening, Argo is ‘based’ on a true story. It wouldn’t be a Hollywood film if it didn’t have its historical inaccuracies (Braveheart…), but ignoring this fact the film conveys a strong narrative and moreover brings this feat of American engineering to the world. During the credits of Argo, real pictures from the time are set next to their in-movie parallel stills; this has been put in place to ensure the audience understands the shocking reality of what really went on in the Iranian capital.

Overall, Argo is a white-knuckle thriller with an engaging script, a hard-hitting context and a tense storyline, whilst keeping its feet firmly on the ground with elements of comedy. Argo is an immensely enjoyable picture and sets a new benchmark for Ben Affleck’s career in directing.

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