One of the cleverest films of the year is Ben Affleck's political thriller Argo, about the exfiltration of six American diplomats hiding out in the Canadian embassy in Tehran following the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, in which a group of Islamist students had stormed and besieged the American embassy in protest against the USA having given exile to the Iranians' dethroned Shah Mohammed Reza.
Affleck yet again demonstrates his talent behind camera, as he let's Chris Terrio's tight script unfold at an agreeable tempo which allows us to delve into the political aspects of the story – the old-fashioned way if you like. At the same time, he manages to create arguably one of the most suspenseful thrillers of the year, complete with an absolutely nerve-racking finale. The film has received some nagging criticism from official corners for not being completely accurate about which embassies did what, and for not properly acknowledging certain countries' efforts in the matter, but this should be minor worries; after all, they're diplomats, they should be able to take it on the chin. Argo is arguably more accurate than most historical accounts rendered on film. If anything is to be criticized in this respect, it is that the Iranians come off as somewhat stereotypical. But then again, Affleck chooses not go in-depth in these characters – they're an obscured enemy for our protagonists; they're players in a political stalemate more than human beings.
Affleck himself stars as the exfiltrator Tony Mendez, without doing too much with the part. He underplays it, clearly having learned that is better than the opposite. But the performance is effective enough and fits well in with the film's industrious, old-fashioned tone. All the other performances by the ensemble cast are fine, but Alan Arkin's Oscar nomination is undoubtedly overpay. He is fun and on the money, but his part hasn't got enough essence to be Oscar worthy. A better choice for a nomination would have been the production designers, because the period work here is particularly impressive, and Argo magically transports us those 30-something years back in time and political atmosphere. This atmosphere was what the many political paranoia thrillers of the 1970s aimed for, but few of them achieved Argo's level of vibrancy and suspense, and that is one of the best compliments I can give this film.