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18 Nov 12
The Perfect Closing Film

Argo is the hugely entertaining third film by actor-director Ben Affleck. it is that rarest of things: a mainstream thriller that is as intelligent as it is entertaining. As such, it is the perfect end to five days of American films.

In the closing credits to Affleck's story of how a group of government employees managed to evade capture when the American Embassy in Tehran was hijacked by Iranians following the deposition of the Shah in 1979, we are shown a series of original images from the period, contrasted with stills from the film. They highlight how accurately Argo has maintained its verisimilitude to the past. Not since Spielberg's Munich (2005) has a mainstream Hollywood film paid such close attention to period detail. (The film is so entrenched in the look of the era, even the Warner Bros opening credit is the one used in the 1970s and not the logo we are used to today.)

Argo plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative specialising in extracting agents from political hotspots around the world. However, this time he has to remove a group of people with no experience in espionage or undercover operations. Every idea the Agency has had to extract them has failed because of the potential danger to the group and embarrassment to the US government should it fail. Mendez's plan is the most audacious or, as hi boss puts it, "The best bad idea we have". He intends to travel there posing as a Canadian producer interested in shooting some scenes for a Star Wars-inspired sci-fi movie. The embassy staff will leave the country as members of the film crew. It's an insane idea. but like the antics of the A-Team, it is a plan that just might come together.

Beyond the impressive period recreation, Argo is a rollicking good thriller. With his previous two films, Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), Affleck showed immense skill as a thriller director. His debut also displayed a sensitivity to the nuances of character. That takes a back seat in Argo. Characterisation is at a minimum, but it is a move that pays off. The whole operation was so fly-by-night, there was not enough time to carry out thorough research. As such we, like Mendez, have to take people on face value.

The film's first half plays out like a comedy, poking fun at the machine tons of the CIA and Hollywood, represented by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, who has hit a perfect stride in recent years as a perfect comic actor. Here he plays the producer approached by the CIA to concoct a real movie that would convince Iranian authorities.

If the climactic sequence of Argo is a more Con Air (1997) than All the President's Men (1976), with a 'will they/won't they?' escape scenario, it does little to detract from a stunningly made thriller. The film is likely to figure large in the forthcoming awards season and Affleck, impressive as director and star, can finally shake off the ghosts of Pearl Harbour (2001), as he moves to the front rank of Hollywood filmmakers.


Ian Haydn Smith
AFF English Daily Editor

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