All the pres­i­dent’s mad­men

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILMREVIEWS - TARA BRADY

ARGO ★★★★ Di­rected by Ben Af­fleck. Star­ring Ben Af­fleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Good­man, Vic­tor Gar­ber, Tate Dono­van 15A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 120 min GET READY FOR war room ac­tion, ac­tion, ac­tion as Ben Af­fleck’s third fea­ture as di­rec­tor trans­forms a real-life 1979 covert CIA op­er­a­tion into a ro­bust thriller.

The his­tor­i­cal an­tecedents are al­ready plenty dra­matic. When rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces over­run the US Em­bassy in Tehran, 52 Amer­i­cans are taken hostage while six es­capees make their way to the Cana­dian am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence.

The State Depart­ment, as em­bod­ied by a de­light­fully twitchy Bryan Cranston as Jack O’Donnell, is in cri­sis. How on earth can they smug­gle the strays out with­out jeop­ar­dis­ing fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions? All pos­si­bil­i­ties are en­ter­tained – in­clud­ing CIA op­er­a­tive An­to­nio Men­dez’ mad no­tion that the Amer­i­cans pose as a Cana­dian movie crew. “Its the best bad idea we’ve got, sir,” Men­dez (Af­fleck) and O’Donnell as­sure Philip Baker Hall’s War­ren Christo­pher.

With this in mind, our hero en­lists the aid of Hol­ly­wood hacks John Good­man and Alan Arkin to best pre­pare for a dar­ing ca­per and an en­tirely fic­tional Ara­bian Nights ver­sus Planet of the Apes epic. “If I’m go­ing to make a fake movie, it’s go­ing to be a fake hit,” in­sists Arkin in­dig­nantly.

The de­tails make for a rip-roar­ing story, which Af­fleck in­vests with old-school di­rec­to­rial élan.

Argo This is a film com­posed from ex­cit­ing go­dammit mo­ments and pro­nounce­ments: The car won’t start, go­dammit; my su­pe­ri­ors don’t un­der­stand, go­dammit; they’re pulling the plug, go­dammit. At its best, Argo is high-do and 11th hour in the spirit of films Men­dez could have en­joyed on the plane ride to Tehran.

Chris Ter­rio’s script pre­serves the essence of Men­dez’ bi­o­graph­i­cal tale of der­ring-do, and Ro­drigo Pri­eto’s tight fram­ing pre­serves the 1970s feel. If Argo- alikes Three Days of the Con­dor and All the Pres­i­dent’s Men are com­bi­na­tory cul­ture, Af­fleck’s pop­corn pic­ture side­steps re­al­ism al­to­gether. The Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary troops have rarely looked as en­ter­tain­ing and na­cho-friendly as they do here.

That’s not ex­actly a criticism. Argo’s mo­men­tum and mus­cu­lar­ity is hard to re­sist. The boy­ish, de­fi­antly brown-suited film’s only speed bump hits when the screen­play de­vi­ates from its era’s an­tecedents with a di­vorced dad sub­plot. We don’t re­call Red­ford and Hoffman need­ing a raga­muf­fin side­kick back in ’76.

Schemers: Alan Arkin and Ben Af­fleck in

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