Verdict: Four out of five stars. Ben Affleck has truly come into his own as a director with a film that is part spy thriller, part black comedy, part history lesson. Deeply moving and very funny too, the excellent cast and Affleck’s confident directing makes Argo a must see.
“This is the best bad idea we have, sir,” says CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) to incredulous looks from his bosses. Circa 1979: six American diplomats are hiding at the Canadian ambassador’s home in Tehran, after the US embassy is overrun by Iranian militants. To get them out of the country, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) concocts an outlandish scheme – the six will escape Iran by posing as Canadian film crew for a fake movie named Argo.
This is Argo, a smooth, confidently directed film by Affleck, based on a hitherto unknown story that emerged from the 444 day Iranian hostage crisis (1979-80). If it all sounds too bizarre to be true, just consider that once upon a time, the words “smooth”, “confidently directed” and “Ben Affleck” would never have belonged in the same sentence. Instead, the former half of the now defunct celebrity duo known as Bennifer has delivered a moving, funny and educational tale in his third directorial outing.
After playing the lead in The Town (2011), Affleck casts himself in a less showy role this time as the strong and silent Mendez, estranged from his wife and worried for his young son. As if to emphasise the meta-narrative, he is also the ‘director’ of the scheme to rescue the six stranded diplomats. At one point, Mendez even says to them: “All right, let’s go make a movie.”