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Review: Argo

November 12, 2012

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Ben Affleck returns as actor and director of his latest political thriller Argo, based on true events of the hostage crisis of November 4th 1979 during the Iranian revolution. The film is based on an important historical event which has shaped modern Iranian political relations with the western world and in particular the USA. Following the Arab spring and the current siege of unrest in the Middle East the timing of such a film seems excellent if not perfect in bringing in the audiences and with the Oscar buzz surrounding this film one can be sure that it will have a healthy run at the box-office.

Affleck opens his film to a stunning mix of black and white archived footage, photography and animated graphics that unveil a short but interesting historical recount of Persia and the Shah, the last king of Iran. The all too common image of a burning American flag opens the film, it’s November 1979, and the streets are laced with angry mobs chanting furiously outside the gates of the American embassy in Tehran. Inside the embassy the anxiety and pressure mounts as the uncontrollable crowds break their way into the building where 52 innocent American bureaucrats are taken hostage, though amongst the frenzied and chaotic madness six manage to escape and seek asylum in the Canadian ambassador’s house. Weeks pass and the CIA back in the US franticly seek for an ingenious rescue mission which includes cycling 300 miles across to the Turkish border.  It’s Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) that comes up with the courageous and daring plan to smuggle the hostages out as production crew members of a fake Canadian film production. Mendez devises his plan and heads to Hollywood, gets himself a Star Wars knockoff entitled Argo and with his team of prosthetics makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) they have a believable film that will never be made. Mendez, equipped with passports, backstories and intelligence that will aid him in successfully getting the “houseguests” out of Iran sets off knowing that if he fails six innocent lives are in his hands.

The film has some harrowing real-life and downright gritty scenes, like the hanging bodies on the end of cranes which could easily be mistaken for modern footage but is actually the costumes that really help gauge a sense of time and place. As a viewer it is important to know the history of Persia to fully comprehend the magnitude of Affleck’s efforts in bringing us a film that seek not to stand as an saturated representation, but to look at the wider field of perspectives without being politically motivated which many works of historical cinema so often do. The suspense and emotional anguish that Affleck so masterfully creates supersedes his previous directorial works and speaks volumes of his talent as a film maker. Argo is an educated and cleverly constructed film that is able to convey meanings though a combination of visual mediums but having said that it’s not faultless by any measure. Argo is sure to put up a good fight with its contenders for best film at the Academy awards and it certainly has a good chance.

Rehan Yasin

Argo is out now in UK cinemas.