Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

What's it about? During the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) hatches a plan to smuggle six fugitive Americans out of Tehran by pretending they are a Canadian film crew on a location scout. To give the plan credibility he needs the help of Hollywood players to develop a fake film for the cover story. Sound far-fetched? Remarkably enough, this is based on a true story of the Canadian Caper.

Is it any good? Yep, it's a tight and taut telling of a remarkable story and very enjoyable. After delivering Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck continues to impress in the director's chair, bringing an appropriate and convincing 70s period vibe to the look and composition of the film by mixing newsreel footage with faithful recreations of events, as evidenced by the real-life photos shown over the end-credits. He also pulls off a tricky balancing act in depicting both the seriousness of the hostage situation and the absurdity of the rescue plan. The early parts of the film, detailing the fabrication of the phony Hollywood production Argo, delivers some light-heartedness courtesy of John Goodman and Alan Arkin, and also pokes fun at the inherent fakeness of the film-making industry (there's a great self-deprecating line about directing). But Affleck is careful not to let this undermine the sobering drama of the Iranian scenes, dispensing with the humour as the mission swings into action and builds to a nail-biting climax, which employs some dramatic license to get the pulse racing, but forgivably so. In the acting stakes, Affleck is fine (it would be rather mean to call him the magical piece of timber in the Argo, but I wanted to use that joke), but this is more of an ensemble piece and everyone pulls together well. And, in this month of Movember, nice to see some fantastic 70s moustache action, even if they are overshadowed by Affleck's rather natty beard. All in all, an enjoyable film and another feather in Affleck's cap.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Well received by critics and public, and an early runner in the Oscar race. Inevitably, however, the liberties taken with some of the facts have enraged various pedants, including some diplomats involved with the situation who point out that the Canadian government, not to mention the British and New Zealand embassies in Tehran, had much more to do with the safe passage of the Americans than the CIA. If you too are worried that your brain cannot differentiate between events depicted in a Hollywood film and actual history, then you can read a full account of the real events here, as told by Mendez himself, or this account from Mark Lijek, who was one of the six. I'm guessing they'd know a thing or two about it. If you'd prefer a glossy featurette to actual facts, Affleck explains below the challenges involved in bringing a true story to the screen.

Anything else I should know? John Goodman's character is the real-life John Chambers, a make-up artist who won an Oscar for his work on Planet of the Apes, and who had previously worked with the CIA providing disguises. His cover name was Jerome Calloway and his role only came to light after Bill Clinton de-classified the CIA files detailing the mission in 1997. Incidentally, I shouldn't really be telling you this, but I too have worked for the CIA in the past, and I expect my mission files to be de-classified by Barack Obama soon. Then you'll know the amazing real reason that this blog exists. You didn't think I'd be doing this for absolutely no reward whatsoever?!! But I fear I've said too much. Shhhh! That's between me and you, now.

What does the Fonz think? Argo and see it.

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