From the retro stylings of its opening credits and the laudable variety of the film’s bygone ‘tache fashions to its faintly grainy visuals and immersive, scene-setting score, Argo (15) makes me want to run up a hill with a megaphone, singing Hooray for Hollywood till my throat is hoarse. For my money, there’s not a single significant flaw in this captivating true tale. No detail’s too small. No character too minor. It’s a pleasure to watch that stimulates the old grey matter, gets your pulse up so high it’s almost dangerous, and entertains so completely, it feels like films are hugging you.
A period film set in 1980 that looks as rich, plays as smart and beguiles as completely as the best of Seventies cinema, this is fiercely intelligent filmmaking from a director, Ben Affleck, whose love for movies is so wildly contagious, infection is guaranteed. Though complex, Argo is never confusing. Though suspenseful to a degree that borders on discomfort, it is often savagely funny with real humanity and deep affection for its larger-than-life characters.
A story so outrageous, so flat-out unlikely, that it must have actually happened, and certainly in Affleck’s hands, Argo is never less than entirely authentic, the movie kicks off at the tail-end of 1979 with furious revolutionaries seizing the American Embassy in Iran, kicking off a hostage crisis that lasted an epic 444 days.
Focusing on six American employees who fled the Embassy before it was taken, only to end up cowering at the Canadian Embassy, Argo details the inspired formation and agonisingly tense execution of the CIA’s ingenious, borderline-crackpot rescue attempt. Masterminded by CIA legend Tony Mendez, here played by Affleck with the cool charisma and understated smarts of a thirtysomething Robert Redford, the plan was to create a fake sci fi film project looking to shoot in Iran and then sneak the six stressed Yanks out of the country by having them pose as its production crew.
An endeavour that had to fool the world in order to properly pull the wool over the eyes of the Iranians, it involved Mendez, in true caper style, hooking up in Hollywood with legendary make up wiz John Chambers (John Goodman) and fast-talking, veteran producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). There the three labour to create a compelling cover story before Tony flies to Iran with plans to turn six scared civil servants into the capable crew of a Star Wars knock off.
From the sheer giddy fun of fooling film types to the unbearable tension of a life-or-death escape, Argo is a film you must go and see now. Phenomenally well-written with so many memorable lines you’ll be quoting it for months, full of vital performances from a stunning cast and crowned by show-stopping direction that juggles for two hours straight without dropping a single ball, Argo is simply perfect.
I predict a heap of Oscar noms, with well-deserved wins for Chris Terrio (Best Adapted Screenplay), Alexandre Desplat (Best Score), Alan Arkin (Best Supporting Actor) and Ben Affleck (Best Director). At the very least. Hell, at this point in my review, with my blood up and all, I’d give it everything.