courtesy Warner Bros Pictures

Film review: Argo

Ben Affleck directs and stars in a thrilling true story of Canadian espionage

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Argo, the third film by director Ben Affleck, is a thriller designed to win awards. It deserves any accolades it will inevitably win, with its tight pacing, sharp script and genuine thrills. Affleck is now three for three in his directorial career, and it really seems to be the direction he should move in. His acting is occasionally charismatic, but more often it’s bland and wooden. However, as a director he has the ability to create tension and realistic characters, giving his films a sense of urgency and immediacy.

Affleck both directs and stars in Argo, the same roles he had in The Town. He plays Tony Mendez, a CIA agent whose speciality is going into dangerous locations to extract trapped people. Mendez is tasked with heading into Iran in 1979 — a place undergoing a major, violet revolution — to rescue six American diplomats who manage to escape the ambushed embassy and are hiding out in the Canadian Ambassador’s home. Circumstances dictate that the diplomats must be rescued as soon as possible, or else their lives will be in grave danger. Mendez’s idea is to claim the diplomats are part of a Canadian film crew and to simply walk them out to the Iranian airport. The Islamic militants are looking for Americans, not Canadians, after all. However, he first needs to establish his fake science fiction film, “Argo,” as something believably real, resulting in a trip to Hollywood.

This rescue plan — and indeed, the entire film — is based on a true story. Tony Mendez was a real person, the method he used in order to attempt to extract these people is not fabricated and, for the most part, Argo holds true to the facts. Where the film differs from reality is in a few dramatizations added to keep things interesting and the importance given to the CIA in the operation. The first is unavoidable, and isn’t really a problem — you’ll have trouble finding a single movie based on a true story that doesn’t make things up to craft a better plot. However, the CIA takes the vast majority of credit in the film, while in real life, Ambassador Ken Taylor (portrayed in the film by Canadian actor Victor Garber) played a much larger role. Get out your pitchforks, Canadians: this is another film in which a Canadian hero is overlooked in favour of an American.

However, not giving credit where credit is due doesn’t make Argo a bad film. It’s funny, thrilling and benefits from some fantastic supporting work — in particular from Alan Arkin and John Goodman as a Hollywood producer and makeup artist, respectively. It’s not fair to disregard it simply because it wants to make a champion out of its CIA agent. The film also takes quite a few jabs at both American culture and its own diplomats. Hollywood takes the brunt of most jokes, particularly in the first third of Argo. 

If what you’re looking for is a a tense, funny, feel-good movie, then Argo is the film to see. It has enough big ideas to keep your brain involved even when the action on screen isn’t as thrilling as you might expect, and it contains talent both in front of and behind the camera, allowing for it to have believable and engrossing characters. Argo increases your heartbeat for the majority of its running time and is absolutely worth the trip to the theatre.