Saturday, November 17, 2012


One of these men should get an Oscar come next January

I can't remember the last time I saw a film that treated its audience and the subject with such intelligence (well one that didn't feature either Matt Damon or George Clooney) and one which you came away from thinking you had just seen a great piece of cinema.

Ben Affleck has starred in and directed a film that oozes five star quality. It's based on a true story and if it wasn't for that fact you would have had to do some serious headscratching to come up with such a preposterous idea for a film. The film is based around the memoir of CIA operative Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) who was a specialist if freeing people from situations that they really shouldn't be in and concerns the plan to help six US embassy employees who fled the embassy on 4th November 1979 when Iranian militants stormed the embassy in Tehran and took more than fifty hostages. The six who escaped managed to make their way to the Canadian embassy where they hid whilst the CIA (among others) tried to come up with a plan to help them escape.

Having considered and dismissed a handful of truly bonkers schemes Mendez comes up with the idea of using a film company location reccy as the cover for getting into Iran and getting himself and the embassy employers out of the country before their real identity is discovered by the Republican Guard. To pull off this scheme he enlists the help of Oscar winning make-up artist John Chambers (played by John Goodman) and successful director Lester Siegel (played by Alan Arkin). As an aside is it me or are both Goodman and Arkin getting better and better as they get older? Anyway having reviewed dozens of potential film scripts that could act as a cover they (with CIA funds) by the option rights to a film called Argo. It's a space based thriller in the style of Star Wars meets Star Trek meets Lost in Space plus a bit of Greek legend thrown in - hence the title. The film incidentally becomes known as 'Argofuckyourself' and the source of a running gag between Mendez, Chambers and Siegel.

Affleck directs the three strands of the film - the Washington scenes where the discussions are held on the alternative solutions to the problems, the scenes in Tehran and the Hollywood scenes with great skill, sensitivity and the neccessary gravitas that should be afforded each of the three components of the film.  The tension is ramped up with each passing minute although there are a few lighter moments. It's also worth noting that music is almost absent from the film, only two snippets of 'western' music are heard - thirty seconds of Dire Straits 'Sultans of Swing' and about the same amount of 'When the Levee Breaks' by Led Zeppelin.

If you don't know how the situation was resolved back in 1979 I won't spoil the ending except to say it is one of those films where you genuinely hold your breath at the end. It's also worth staying in your seat as others rush for the doors whilst the credits roll to see the photographs that show how closely the actors are in appearance to the people they potrayed and to hear Jimmy Carter's final words on the operation.

Gripping stuff indeed.


Span Ows said...

I was on the watch-list but not getting to the cinema much these days! I'll try to see it and tell you which one of the three should get the award.

Paul said...

First time we'd been for ages as well - problem is that the nearest cinema is 45 minutes away.

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