Quite astonishingly based on a true story, 'Argo' charts an attempted rescue by the CIA of six US embassy workers in the hostile setting of 1979 Iran, posing as a Hollywood film production crew on a location scout. Ben Affleck's returns as a director, lending his increasingly assured hand and creating a tense drama with flourishes of humour.
'Argo' opens with an animated sequence (providing historical and political context) before immediately dropping the viewer into an unsettling situation as angry Iranians seek to siege the US embassy in Tehran. Affleck captures the fear of the situation incredibly, and as the end credits show - also recreating the actual setting with impressive precision.
Six embassy workers escape from the siege and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador's house but realise it will not be long till the Iranians discover them. CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is tasked with their response, recruited by Bryan Cranston, as they seek to covertly rescue the six stranded Americans amid the pervasively anti-American environment.
Mendez masterminds an outrageous rescue plan, recruiting make-up artist John Goodman and Hollywood royalty Alan Arkin to create a fake film production - the 'Star Wars'-inspired 'Argo' - as a cover for the embassy workers. Cue a stark contrast between hilarious one-liners about filmmaking and the tension of the embassy workers' situation.
The finale may well be all too predictable but much of the journey evokes suspense, a credit to Affleck's directorial skill. The dialogue occasionally attempts to over-reach (particularly in comedic terms) but this is more a failing of the otherwise effective script - successfully managing the ensemble cast.
Ben Affleck is building up a fine back catalogue as a director - the smart and suspenseful 'Argo' is his third effort behind the camera, following 2008's 'Gone Baby Gone' and 'The Town'. And if you're not a fan, to quote this very film, "Argo fuck yourself".
'Argo' premiered in the UK at the 2012 London Film Festival and is out today nationwide, through Warner Bros.