Argo – a superb piece of epic filmmaking – meet Oscar

If it hadn’t been true, you’d have never believed it but it was and it’s ARGO, Ben Affleck’s incredible new movie, surely destined for Oscar success.

ARGO, Ben Affleck’s incredible third movie as a director, is one of those real-life stories that take your breath away. An absolutely superb piece of epic film-making based on Joshuah Bearman’s article Escape from Tehran, it shows Affleck to be a director of formidable talent. Following the dark kidnapping drama Gone Baby Gone and the high octane heist The Town, he brings us an intelligent, exciting and thought-provoking movie that’s my top tip to take away ‘Best Picture’ and maybe also ‘Best Director’ at next year’s Academy Awards.

John Goodman as John Chambers, Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in Argo

John Goodman as John Chambers, Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez form a plan

Charting the daring rescue of six Americans from Iran in 1980 amidst the nightmare that followed the overthrow of the government, Affleck’s CIA officer Tony Mendez, whose speciality is getting people out of hazardous places, comes up with a plan that’s so crazy it might just work – the six are a Canadian film crew there to scout locations for a new science fiction movie, the ‘ARGO’ of the title. He flies into Tehran, brings them out of their hiding place at the Canadian ambassador’s house and they all fly out together under that cover. That could work, right?

“This is the best bad idea we have, sir – by far.”

What a glorious understatement made by Mendez’s boss Jack O’Donnell played in commanding fashion by the ever-brilliant Bryan Cranston.

Along with Chris Messina, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, and Zeljko Ivanek at CIA headquarters, these are just some of the glittering collection of actors that Affleck has assembled for this film – Victor Garber brings a warmth and humanity to the Canadian ambassador, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are terrific as the Hollywood men – make-up artists John Chambers and film producer Lester Siegel respectively – that Mendez goes to for help in creating this fake movie, providing some great moments of light relief amidst the sweaty palm tension that pervades the rest of Chris Terrio’s very sharp script.

Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez with the six Americans in Argo

Affleck as Tony Mendez prepares the six Americans for their escape

And every one of the six hostages is a beautifully detailed character. There’s Tate Donovan recently so good in Damages), Clea DuVall (still in the memory for her superb turn in The Faculty), Rory Cochrane (another great performance since leaving CSI: Miami), Christopher Denham (terrific as the military strategist in Charlie Wilson’s War), newcomer Kerry Bishe and the absolutely outstanding Scoot McNairy. I’d already read a review of the film where it singled out his performance as the one you really remember and now I totally see why. Having been impressed the first time I saw him in Gareth Edwards’ Monsters and hearing about his recent star turn in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, he really is an exciting new face to watch.

But special mention must also go to Ben Affleck, not only as a director but as an actor as well – his central performance is the most contained and powerful I’ve seen him give. It’s authoritative but understated, perfectly in keeping for a man in a profession that if you give anything away, it will have very bad consequences. Mendez is an extraordinary man who did an extraordinary act but Affleck presents him without grandstanding, showing us a quiet, perceptive man who keeps things close to his chest and who won’t give in.

As a director too, Affleck employs the same singular focus, driving the story forward with a sense of urgency from the very first sequence to the superb white-knuckle climax, working brilliantly with Rodrigo Prieto (director of photography) and William Goldenberg (editor), recreating this period of history with total authenticity.

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