(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 21 October, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/a/15416)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Scoot McNairy, Alan Arkin and others
Director: Ben Affleck
Rating: 4.5 stars
You’re in a strange country in the throes of revolution, where people may be hanged from cranes or blown to bits by a firing squad; you want to stay on to prove that you’re tough; you love this beautiful country enough to learn its complicated language; you want to help its citizens to flee to the safety of America. But the students of this country are angry with you, because your country has something that they want back, something that caused them tremendous grief. You think you’ve found a route to safety, but you hit a dead end. The one person who says he will get you out won’t even tell you his real name. What do you do?
You live alone in a house in America, because your wife can’t take it anymore. You try to bond with your son by watching the same TV channel long distance. You’re being sent to rescue some people who were foolish enough to go out on to the streets of Tehran when the pavements were red with blood. Your life is worth less than your country’s international image, and so there’s a chance you may never come out. The people you’re risking your life for don’t even trust you. What do you do?
Argo is a thriller based on a true story – the daring attempt to rescue six people from a safe house in Iran. You’re sure you know how this will end, because, come on, true stories in which the CIA is involved can only end one way, right? Right? Somehow, in Argo, you’re uneasy. You’re never sure what’s going to happen, and when the film is over, you realise your nerves feel jangled.
The film gets us right at the opening, when the history of twentieth-century Iran is told through a graphic novel. From the voice of the storyteller, to the visuals we see from Tehran, to the clothes and hairstyles of the people we meet, everything rings of authenticity. And from the terrified diplomats, to the sweathouse children who carefully piece together shredded documents, to the Revolutionary Guard that is enamoured of a science-fiction movie storyboard, everyone finds our empathy.
Director Ben Affleck, who also plays a key role, shows his mastery of his craft in his restraint, complemented by his eye for detail. There are glimpses of Iran that makes us wonder whether any society is free of hypocrisy. There are minor characters whom we grow to adore. There are little plays of ego that could become dangerous. It does get rather dramatic and contrived at one point, but its beautiful pacing makes us indulgent.
The Verdict: Argo and watch it!