Ben Affleck directs and stars in almost-brilliant nailbiter Discuss this article
It’s a little-known fact that Ben Affleck has a degree in Middle Eastern affairs. It’s a qualification he puts to good use in Argo, a nail-biting thriller based (fairly loosely) on real events that manages to mostly avoid expected Hollywood clichés and promote a balanced view of America’s dealings with the Middle East.
For 100 minutes, Argo is close to flawless. Modelling his directorial style on the stark, serious ’70s thrillers of Alan J Pakula and Sidney Lumet, Affleck cranks up the tension expertly. The script is witty and insightful, contrasting US and Iranian popular reactions to the 1979 hostage crisis. There’s not enough attention paid to character development – Mendez, in particular, never comes into sharp focus – but that was true in the Pakula/Lumet films, too, and it’s mitigated by a superb cast, notably Alan Arkin as a Hollywood old-hand.
But the film’s most abiding pleasure lies in the period detail: using multiple film stocks and reportedly blowing up some of the 35mm footage for a grainier texture, Affleck achieves the look, feel, and almost smell of the late ’70s. So it’s a shame he bottles it in the home stretch, bowing to the demands of the multiplex to offer an action-packed climax, and ending on a note of odious sentimentality. It’s almost enough to erase what’s gone before – but that would be to undervalue the skill, intelligence and craft that have gone into this oh-so-nearly brilliant political potboiler.By Tom Huddleston
Time Out Dubai,