You know, this isn’t a bad film. It’s gripping, smartly directed by Ben Affleck (his third directorial outing) and studded with great performances from some of the best character actors in the business. It thrilled the crowd at LFF (who at once point burst into spontaneous applause) and is being spoken of in the hushed tones reserved for Oscar favourites. Yet I find myself not really wanting to give it a rave review.
Argo is based on the true story of six US citizens taken hostage in Tehran in 1979. They are holed up in the Canadian embassy but the Islamic militants are closing in and the American government need to find a way to get them out quickly. The CIA’s Tony Mendez (played by a miscast Affleck) has a plan – to sneak them out of the country by pretending to be a Canadian movie crew scouting locations for Argo, a sci-fi production. It’s a bit of a bonkers one, as plans go, but without any other realistic options, he gets the go ahead and with the support of his CIA boss Jack O’Donnell (the wonderful Bryan Cranston) and the help of Hollywood make-up genius John Chambers and producer Lester Seigel (John Goodman and Alan Arkin, both great as always), the plan comes together.
Affleck builds the tension expertly and not without some clever touches of humour, and by the climactic scene at the end, you genuinely will find yourself on the edge of your seat. It’s all a little bit formulaic for me though, there are too many of those annoying ‘just in time’ moments and some unneccessary cheese (cute Mendez jnr playing with his space toys? No thanks). But I think the biggest bum note is Affleck who never feels quite right as Mendez – he just isn’t grizzled enough to make his hard working, hard drinking CIA man believable. A shame, when the rest of the cast is so strong.
So enjoyable, yes. A slick thriller, yes. But a great film? Not really. It feels like there is a much stronger story in here somewhere that hasn’t been allowed to blossom. Affleck clearly has the potential to do much better (maybe when he isn’t trying so hard to get an Oscar).