Argo: A Return To The Past?

November 15, 2012 6:00 pm

Thursday 15th November 2012



Directed by Ben Affleck.

Produced by Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney.

Written by Chris Terrio. Based on the books, ‘The Master of Disguise” by Antonio. J. Mendes and “The Great Escape” by Joshuah Bearman.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Kyle Chandler.



Ben Affleck’s Argo may just establish him as one of Hollywood’s new elite filmmakers. His latest effort is a bold, chilling, intelligent and rather heart-pounding thriller. Argo breathes life into the so-called ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’, its testament to the films of the 40’s and the 50’s that built their vehicles using character causality and which didn’t have the need (or the technology at the time) to build a movie centered around the nature of ‘spectacle’.

 Argo is a step back in time into the 70’s. The Warner Bros logo is transformed back into that of it’s 70’s counterpart, and the film begins with a storytelling animation-mixing-footage sequence which draws the audience straight into this chaotic and plausible 70’s world. It’s very reminiscent of the 40’s classic, Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) as the preceding story is outlined to us before we are dropped straight into a scene of complete hysteria.

 At times, Affleck’s depiction of Iran is downright scary. It’s a country fuelled with anger, and the Iranian extras pull this off and more, hope is simply a lost cause for them and from the way they are framed, the feeling is that power resides in numbers, and this is where the plot really starts to kick in an interesting wave of contrasts.

Affleck portrays Tony Mendez, a CIA specialist is brought in to help assess ways of extracting six hostages from Iran who escaped the ransacking of the U.S Embassy in Iran and who have found safety in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. As the narrative flicks through Mendez’s opening scenes, Affleck portrays him as  a rather reserved, chilled out guy who at times, as the viewer, you don’t believe he has the willingness to drive his theory out.

 His theory is to use a fake science-fiction film production (called Argo) as cover in order to extract the hostages from Iran and to take them on a flight out of the country with the hostages posing as members of the crew.

 Affleck begins a flirting relationship with the supposed glamour and structure of Hollywood as heavyweights John Goodman (playing Hollywood veteran make-up artist, John Chambers) and Alan Arkin (a veteran film producer) come into play and through them we get a deconstructed, satirical view of the behind-the-scenes of Hollywood film production. The film’s humour comes directly out of these two, whose angst and bravado take home the spoils for the best lines.

 But Affleck manages to tone down the right balance of humour and tension, as the film poetically contrasts with the melancholy, always sunny, glamour of Hollywood, with the grey, harrowing “truth” of Iran as Affleck’s character enters the city to be welcomed to shots of people being hung from cranes. It’s not a pretty image, but it is one that you find yourself immersed in.

 The tension picks up when the six hostages begin to play their part and this is where Affleck brings out his “A-Game” as the camera stalks them through their terrifying ordeal, hunting them down whenever they look away, you are transfixed on these characters, and Affleck feeds them through the frame to us and we become so pressed into this image that it’s hard to look away.

 I mentioned the ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ at the start, this is a narrative system based around the ideas of character-centered narratives, reveling in the notion of cause-and-effect. It surprised me that an A-list production like ‘Argo’ would be so successful at harking back to these cliches and it really is the presence of these characters that drive the story and what makes it so invigorating.

 The film itself is a collage of contrasts, the clean-cut image of the American home to the sheltered bunk of terror in Iran. Affleck doesn’t hold anything back and the film has come under criticism for glorifying the Americans in the film but in my opinion he simply contrasts different emotions; the raging anger of the Iranians  and the frightened, but at peace Americans.

 Argo is a real mouthful to swallow, and will be ticking over in your head for days. It achieves the right balance of awe and suspense and of morbidity and humour. All in all, a strong movie with a strong cast and an absorbing narrative. Mr. Affleck, welcome to the big leagues.



Written by Loughlan Campbell

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