The first time I saw the trailer for Argo, I was in a packed cinema. As soon as Ben Affleck appeared on the screen, the lady next to me commented to her friend, “Don’t really like the beard… no… not at all”. Gotta love how we judge films by wether the actors are hot, or for this lady, not.
Despite, or maybe because of, Affleck’s beard, the rest of the trailer intrigued me enough to drag myself to the cinema to find out more. Argo is based on the true story of the rescue of six U.S. Diplomats, by former CIA technical operations officer, Tony Mendez, from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
If you are unaware of the history of Iran, or just need to have a refresher course, never fear. Argo opens with a brief account of the political unrest that took place in Iran from 1950, up until the hostage crisis, where Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, filled with anger over America’s willingness to help the Shan, a cruel and oppressive man who maintained strict rule over Iran. Many of the diplomats and workers in the embassy were taken captive, but six managed to escape to the Canadian ambassador’s house, where they stayed until the arrival of Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). While still in the States, Mendez was brought in as a consultant to discuss ways of getting the six out of Iran. There were many suggestions, including giving them bicycles to ride over the boarder. Mendez was convinced there was a better way and came up with the idea of creating a cover story for the six. They would be filmmakers, scouting exotic locations for their new sci-fi film, Argo. In order to convince the Iranians that it was a legitimate film, Mendez brought in John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist, and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Together they set up a film studio, with scripts, storyboards and even auditioned actors for the parts. While this is all happening, the six escapees become panic-stricken with uncertainty and have next-to-no contact with the outside world.
Argo manages to captures the desperation of the diplomats, escapees and men in America attempting to bring them home. This situation is unlike anything most New Zealanders have had to live with, yet this film manages to evoke great empathy for what they were going through and fills you with enough suspense and worry to overflow the ocean.
Having said that, there is a sprinkling of comedy, provided by John Goodman, which breaks the suspense and prevents you from developing a hernia from all the tension. Speaking of Goodman, his acting was spot-on, along with the rest of the incredible cast including Clea DuVall, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan and Richard Kind to name a few. Sometimes I find with a large cast of well-knows, it feel like I’m talent spotting on Hollywood Boulevard, and trying to remember which film or TV series I know them from, but the story of Argo was so engrossing and believable that I just accepted them as the real deal.
Having said that, part of my brain was trying to concentrate and keep up with what was going on. Without knowing the story, or the history of Iran, at points, I did find it hard to keep up, but did get the gist of what was going on. I would suggest doing a tiny bit of research beforehand, or like me, just watch the film again. And again. And again.
Being set mostly in Iran, there are some incredible shots of scenery and buildings. Despite never even setting foot in the Middle East, I feel that Affleck managed to capture the essence of the country at the time, and looking back on actual historical accounts, the backdrop of the surroundings, the events that took place, and even the appearance of the escapees seemed to be spot-on.
If you are interested in historical, political films, suspense thrillers, and films like Munich or The Last King of Scotland, you’ll probably enjoy Argo. That said, all those labels could almost make it sound boring. But boring, it is not! In fact, if you like the trailer, you’ll probably like the film. And despite what that woman said when I first saw the trailer, I think Ben Affleck looks quite good with a beard.
M Violence and offensive language.
Reviewed by: Nerice Collins