Ben Affleck continues his remarkable rise to prominence as one of America’s brightest young directors with Argo (2012), a nerve-wrenching, exemplary example of the type of engrossing thrillers we should really be expecting more of from Hollywood. Based on the true story of the exfiltration of six US Embassy staff members from the militant rising in Iran in the 1980s, Argo centres on an elaborate plan to use a counterfeit B-movie shoot to safely rescue these American citizens from Tehran. Clearly inspired by the Cold War-influenced political thrillers of the 70s, Affleck’s third full feature is a stylistic and incredibly ensured piece of escapist entertainment.
This fascinating story, coupled with sublime costume and set designs was never going to result in anything less than an notable piece of filmmaking, however, the way Affleck manufactures such heart-stopping suspense and tension without resorting to hackneyed action sequences helps transform Argo into one of those rare beasts – an intelligent, yet entertaining blockbuster. That’s not to say that this is a heavy-handed political thriller, in fact Affleck gets all the hard hitting stuff out the way early with a brief, yet informative animated exposition which allows the audience an easily accessible route into this historical actioner.
Affleck stars for the first time in one of his own films and whilst his performance is far from shocking, it’s the supporting cast he’s assembled to assist him which deliver the most enjoyment, especially John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston who between them drop enough f-bombs to independently push the film’s classification up to a 15. However, the same can’t be said from the film’s plethora of Iranian nationals. Argo walks a very fine line when it comes to political correctness, successfully managing to traverse controversy and edging carefully away from the jingoistic roars normally associated with such a western historical re-imagining.
However, it should be noted that the duel view of the Iranian populaces as either incensed revolutionaries, or mischievous spies does come across more than a little xenophobic. Affleck often juxtaposes their anger punctured faces and screams with the timid and vulnerable appearances of the America hostages, to evoke a heightened sense of trepidation – already palpable thanks to the film’s nuanced editing techniques.
A riveting and exceedingly assured feature, Argo is a first-rate thriller that whilst lacking in any sense of historical relevance remains a perfectly fashioned piece of evening escapism that thanks to its rousing patriotic subject matter is poised for success at next year’s Academy Awards.