Director: Ben Affleck.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman.
SINCE turning his hand to directing, Ben Affleck has enjoyed a Pixar-like strike rate of success.
First there was the mystery Gone Baby Gone, followed by the heist drama The Town - both excellent films, with compelling characters and intriguing stories.
Now there's Argo, which may be the pick of the bunch, despite being slighter in the character department.
This tense yet unexpected espionage thriller tells the story of six American diplomats who escaped the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980, only to find themselves stuck hiding at the home of Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).
With the Iranian forces circling, the CIA is desperate to get the six to safety - so desperate that attempt an idea that can best be described as "so crazy it just might work".
Enter disguise and exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck) who poses as a Canadian filmmaker scouting for locations in Iran to shoot a sci-fi film as a cover for getting the six diplomats out, who will have to pose as his film crew.
Amazingly, it's a true story. And because it's such a fantastic true story, you might be tempted to think it's a sure shot for a successful film. But guess again.
Argo, on paper, is a mix of two distinct tones - the sheer life-threatening terror of the situation in Iran and the absolute absurdity of creating a fake film in order to rescue hostages.
This is where Affleck succeeds. With the help of the occasional injections of dry wit from Chris Terrio's streamlined script, great pacing and excellent performances all round, Argo gets the balance perfect. We get the release of laughs at just the right moments - often provided by Goodman and Arkin - yet they never detract from the tension of the predicament.
Character's are developed just enough, but the story and the remarkable lengths the CIA went to are the star. Affleck ramps up the tension throughout, and his directing is perhaps workmanlike, but he's smart enough not to get in the way of the story, capturing the era nicely and avoiding too much preaching.
Affleck nicely underplays the role of the subdued but ballsy CIA agent Mendez, and Arkin and Goodman make a great double act as the real Hollywood figures that help Mendez put his plan together. Cranston is also good, as are Clea Duvall, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe as the six diplomats.
It's not perfect. It can't help but go with the too-obvious swelling orchestral score at the conclusion, and efforts to shoehorn in Mendez's personal life fall a little flat, but they're minor hiccups in what is a fascinating and well-told story.