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Argo review

With Gone Baby Gone and The Town , Ben Affleck silenced his critics, joining Clint Eastwood and George Clooney in the elite club of A-list actors turned credible directors.

Not content with resting on his laurels, Affleck’s third feature sees him stepping out of his comfort zone.

Leaving behind the familiar setting of his beloved Boston for a more global backdrop, Argo builds on his earlier efforts in both scope (hopping between Washington, Hollywood and Tehran) and ambition: a period-set, true-story drama that tackles an incendiary period in the history of US-Iranian relations.

Set during the 1979 hostage crisis, in which local revolutionaries seized Tehran’s US Embassy, Argo tells the story of six Americans who managed to escape.

Holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s house, their only hope of getting out alive is CIA ‘exfiltrator’ Tony Mendez (Affleck).

His plan? To fly into Iran with fake IDs and convince the new powers that the six are a Canadian film crew scouting locations for Argo , a Star Wars -inspired space opera.

The real challenge? Creating a watertight cover by duping Tinseltown itself, via casting calls, launch parties and Variety ads…

Affleck’s biggest test - and success - here is fusing various story strands, each with a very different ambiance…

In DC, Affleck channels All The President’s Men -era Pakula: all shady sets, crash zooms and political wrangling.

In Hollywood, Argo becomes a slick industry satire, John Goodman’s wry FX genius and Alan Arkin’s take-no-prisoners producer (“If I’m gonna make a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit!”) making for a triumphant double act.

In Tehran, it’s grainy, gritty and full of standout set-pieces (a charged chase through a bustling bazaar, a palpably paranoid airport interrogation…) that reveal a directorial flair for sustained, sweaty-palmed suspense.

Part comic caper, part political thriller, Affleck’s genre-mashing mongrel is a strange beast. And yet somehow he makes it work, anchoring proceedings with a likeable, layered lead performance.

Sure, there’s a couple of wobbles - a subplot involving Affleck’s sci-fi-loving son adds unnecessary schmaltz, while the six embassy employees are largely undercooked - but Argo sees the director growing in confidence and broadening his range.

It’s another victorious riposte to his detractors: in the words of Mendez and co, “Ar-go fuck yourselves…”

Combining laughs and thrills with plenty of verve, Ben Affleck continues his smart directorial career with a stylish, gripping hostage drama.

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