In November of 1979, the US Embassy in Tehran was taken over by Iranian revolutionaries and over 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. However, six consulate workers snuck out a back alleyway and eventually made it to the Canadian ambassador’s house. Argo tells the unbelievable true story of the joint Canadian-CIA rescue mission to get those six people out of Iran alive. Argo is without a doubt one of the best films of the year, Ben Affleck has once again outdone himself with this phenomenal film.
Ben Affleck not only directs and produces, but stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA operative who came up with a plot to rescue the six Americans from Iran. His idea is to establish a charade that the Americans are part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction movie, so he would fly into Tehran and they would all leave together on fictitious Canadian passports. John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood makeup artist who had worked with the CIA before, collaborates with Mendez. After they recruit producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), they buy a script, an office space for their fake production company, make business cards, and purchase add space in Vanity magazine, all under the rouse that they are making a sci-fi film called “Argo” in the style of Star Wars.
Ben Affleck has shown tremendous talent as a director, first with Gone Baby Gone and the The Town, and this film is better still. He displays the talent of a far more experienced filmmaker with a strong understanding of how to tell a story truthfully and enticingly. As a lead actor, his performance is strong enough to hold everything together, but where the acting stands out is in all of the supporting performances. Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s supervisor is terrific, Arkin and Goodman are memorable and quite often funny in their embodiment of 1970s Hollywood powerhouses, Victor Garber is effective as Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, and all six of the escapees have also been well cast.
Perhaps what the film does best is in the way it finds its tone, from the onset to the closing credits we are reminded that this drama is all real, but in between Affleck takes us to places with lighter atmospheres – such as Hollywood in the late ‘70s. The opening scene which follows the storming of the embassy is so well shot that we feel the terror of the people inside, and the escape is so intense that we sit at the edge of our seats for almost half of the film. While the film contains some humor, its most prolific and memorable moments are in the grounding of the story in its painful but amazing truth. That people came together in such a way to save the lives of six others is extraordinary, and Argo greatly succeeds in both telling a story that was not widely known, and in being a highly thrilling and moving film.