Argo, the latest film from director Ben Affleck, tells the true story of the rescue of six American citizens working in the Iranian embassy in 1979. When Iranian civilians, upset that the United States is granting asylum to the recently deposed Shah, storm and capture the embassy, the six embassy workers manage to escape to the house of the Canadian ambassador. A rescue mission must and does follow, in this tense thriller written by Chris Terrio and Joshuah Bearman.
CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is the man tasked with bringing those people home. Mendez, an expert in this sort of thing, concocts a plan by which to sneak the Americans out by pretending to shoot a movie in Iran. This would allow the six diplomats to pose as members of the production team and, at the end of “filming,” fly home. Mendez and his supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) contact John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist who has previously crafted disguises for the CIA in addition to his work in the Planet of the Apes film series. Chambers puts them in touch with Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a modestly successful film producer. Together they set up a phony film studio and successfully establish the pretense of developing Argo, a “science fantasy” in the style of the recent hit Star Wars, to lend credibility to the cover story.
Argo (the real one) is a very simple film, and I love it for that very reason. Getting the people out of Iran is the film’s only goal. The details of how they successfully make this escape revolve heavily around making a fake movie in Iran, but this amusing pretense never distracts the viewer from the film’s goal. All of the characters in the film have a part to play, and no one is overused.
The main positive of this film is that, because the events in Argo actually happened, there’s tons of old footage that enlightens audience members to this key moment in history. We see glimpses of old news broadcasts and key moments from that crisis. The audience is constantly drawn in and made to feel as if they are living the nightmare. One definitely gets an idea of what a high-pressure situation it was for the CIA as well as the embassy staff.
Another positive is that, thanks to Arkin and Goodman, there are surprisingly funny moments in an otherwise tense film. Arkin and Goodman have wonderful chemistry together, and they keep the jokes very small but get big laughs as a result. This humor, laced throughout, gives the film great balance.
The one negative of the film, I have to say, is Ben Affleck’s flat performance as Tony Mendez. We are never given any insight into the spy’s personality or personal life. He is the least fleshed out of all the characters in the film, with nothing but his position as main character to make me want to root for him to succeed. Thankfully, the actors portraying the embassy workers all gave me moments of honesty that I could appreciate and support throughout the film.
Ben Affleck’s direction in Argo is top notch and continues to prove that he is one of those directors to watch. A true story told well indeed.