Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
As our first screening at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, Argo also happens to be a movie that we've been looking forward to for quite some time. The latest offering from Ben Affleck, it tells the tale of a now-declassified CIA rescue mission, known as the Canadian Caper, which aimed to remove six American diplomats from a hostile Tehran in the early 1980s.
While that in itself would have the makings of a decent enough flick, the fact that the Canadian Caper was not only one of the most daring rescue missions in diplomatic history, but also one of the most imaginative only helps to make Argo all the more alluring.
Our early fears that it could turn out to be another "yay America" flick, doused in patriotism and stars and stripes imagery were quickly put to bed in the movie's opening moments. Explaining the background of the civil unrest in Iran, the movie goes to reasonable lengths to paint the plight of the Iranians in a very understandable manner, explaining the background to the revolution candidly, and not being afraid to wear America's involvement in some of the shadier aspects of the problems on its sleeve. Not only does this serve to give the viewer an accurate historical background, but it also establishes an air of trustworthiness that would otherwise have been lacking from the narrative.
Going in under the guise of a Canadian film producer, Affleck's Tony Mendez, an expert in extracting hostages, sets up a completely imaginary science fiction movie, based on Argo, a script that nobody wanted to produce. With the help of some Hollywood stalwarts, Mendez must go about legitimizing the project before making his way into Iran to extract the diplomats who have been holed up in the Canadian embassy following the fall of the American to Iranian dissidents.
Despite the fact that Argo is based on serious real-life events, it'll surprise many with its countless laugh out loud moments. Those of you who have seen the trailer will no doubt be familiar with some of the amusing quips in store, but it's unlikely you'll be expecting quite the level of amusement you'll actually get. No doubt the seriousness of the situation at hand lends itself to the comic relief, but for our money, it's all about the delivery.
Despite being better known for his more serious roles of late, having long since proven his dramatic and directorial chops with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck will surprise many with this offering. It's clear that Hollywood's rising star has more in his locker than action and drama, and his comedic timing, directorially at least, will take many unawares.
He's helped on screen by excellent turns from Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston and long standing comedy heavyweight John Goodman, as well as with some excellent supporting performances from Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall and Tate Donovan. Knowing full well that he's dealing with truly unique source material, Affleck hasn't been afraid to take chances where others may have stuck to more familiar territory, and it pays off.
As the movie's lead, however, he seems a little out of place. While his straight-laced CIA man character called for attitude, balls and genuine bravery, Affleck instead feels like a little boy lost all too often, and no amount of grey hair specked throughout his hair and beard can make him seem any more suitable. Ultimately though, it doesn't harm the movie thanks to some fantastic scripting and the fine performances of the rest of the excellently cast actors.
Given the fact that the movie is based predominantly in Iran, we did find ourselves a little disappointed at the lack of on-location filming. There's a brief glimpse of the Tehran Bazaar, and some token outdoors shots, but ultimately little else to get excited about, which is a shame given the beauty of the country's architecture. This is forgivable due to the fact that the bulk of the movie takes place indoors, but it nevertheless feels like an opportunity wasted.
Thankfully, that's the extent of our quibbles with Argo. While it's perhaps a little slower than some would like, the wonderful exchanges between characters and some genuine tension as the plan reaches its climax, coupled with the relief of the finale, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable trip to the theatre.
It's certainly a different beast to Affleck's two previous directorial stints, but that's by no means a bad thing and, poor casting aside for Affleck's own part, it proves for once and for all that he's a rapidly rising star in the Hollywood helming scene.
Argo is released on October 12th, and it's a flick you won't want to miss!