Exfiltration? Had you asked us what that word meant a year ago, we’d probably have said it had something to do with bottled water.
Now, of course, we know that it refers to the covert process of extracting friendly personnel from hostile territory, preferably with the assistance of a Hollywood producer, an Oscar-winning make-up artist and an entirely fabricated sci-fi opus.
Who says you can’t learn stuff from the movies?
Here is something else we learned in 2012: that Ben Affleck, regardless of what the Academy thinks, is an exceptionally fine filmmaker who’s getting better every time he steps behind the camera.
He is not too shabby in front of it either, deftly hiding his movie-star charisma beneath unlovely threads and a hobo beard in his role as the CIA case officer called in to spirit six US diplomats out of Tehran at the height of 1979’s Iran hostage crisis.
But it’s directing that’s proving to be his real forte, his third feature (after the efficient Gone Baby Gone and the accomplished The Town) revealing a sure-footed confidence when it comes to marshaling action, judging mood and eliciting performance.
It sure takes ambition to bring three distinct genres - ’70s conspiracy thriller, Tinseltown satire and ticking-clock pulse-racer - together in a single project. Kudos then to writer Chris Terrio, not least for peppering his brisk, punchy screenplay with so much salty, quotable dialogue.
“This script ain’t worth the buffalo shit on a nickel!” splutters Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, the colourful (and fictional) mogul who helps Affleck cook up a scam plausible enough to get the six attachés in his care out of harm’s way. “We did suicide missions in the army that had better odds!”
And there’s some nice lines too for Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston in his role as Affleck’s string-pulling boss, complaining at one point that “[President] Carter’s shitting enough bricks to build the pyramids” and sighing at another that “if we’d wanted applause, we’d have joined the circus”.
OK, so Argo doesn’t so much play fast and loose with history as lock it in a trunk and dump it in the river. For one thing, it downplays Canada’s role in this counter-intelligence coup to the point of irrelevance.
For another, it morphs what was in truth a perfectly straightforward resolution into a full-on nailbiter.
As docudrama then, it’s somewhat wanting.
But it sure makes for great entertainment.