Based on real events, the dramatic thriller Argo chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis, focusing on the little-known role that the CIA and Hollywood played-information that was not declassified until many years after the event.
Actor turned director Ben Affleck was able to string together two strong features, Gone Baby Gone
and The Town
, by exploring the moral ambiguity of criminals and setting his films within familiar New England territory. Both movies garnered their share of critical praise, and established Affleck as a filmmaker to keep an eye on. His newest film, Argo
, is a complete departure from Affleck's previous work, but might also be his most successful. Argo
focuses on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, but tells a story even those that remember the main event might not know. At its most basic, Argo
is the story of a CIA rescue mission so unbelievable that only a movie could do it justice.
Affleck plays Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA exfiltration expert who is brought in to consult on an unfortunate, but relatively unknown situation involving six Americans who managed to escape from the embassy in '79. While ideas like having the six pose as teachers, or having them ride bicycles (in Winter no less) are tossed around, Mendez comes up with an even more impossible plan, but one that could work. Mendez's plan is to fly into Iran under the guise of a sci-fi film producer, coordinate with the six fugitives (known as "the six"), and fly out as a film crew returning home from a successful venture scouting locations.
Though the film deals with some heavy subject matter, and is fraught with tension during its latter parts, Argo
brings some humorous elements into the mix as Mendez attempts to realistically greenlight an in-production film. In fact, Mendez delves so deep into the Hollywood system that Argo
, in a few places, doubles as an expose on film culture during that time. Surprisingly it's these scenes - that feature Affleck acting against Alan Arkin and John Goodman as two Hollywood has-beens - that might be the film's most entertaining, and they have nothing to do with the actual rescue part of the mission. Those portions of the film are equally as compelling, don't get me wrong, but at times it feels like the production manufactured tension by way of a few plot twists. There's nothing too unbelievable, but there are one or two sequences that make you wonder how the actual escape plan played out. Were "the six" that close to being found out, or did that just make for a more compelling movie?
Nonetheless, the film is some of Affleck's best work, both as an actor and a director, and the cast he puts together help breathe life to these relatively unknown Americans. Furthermore, there's an impeccable attention to detail in Argo
that really creates a mood and an atmosphere that immerses the audience from the very first frame. The decision to cast relative unknowns as "the six" helps the characters feel disposable, and more importantly makes you fear for their safety the whole way through. Anyone familiar with the "untold story" might not find much to be concerned about, but even then the story is engaging enough to follow from beginning to end.
Additionally commendable is the film's ability to juggle several storylines. While Argo
focuses on Mendez's rescue mission, and all the ebbs and flows that come with that, there are several characters, like Bryan Cranston's CIA chief Jack O'Donnel and Victor Garber as the Canadian Prime Minister harboring the fugitives, that are equally as important to doing the story justice. See, Affleck doesn't just want to make a film that sensationalizes a little known fact about the Iran crisis; he wants to tell the full story (or at least hopes to) by incorporating every relevant fact and individual. It's a lot to keep track of at the outset, but it makes for a film that, for the most part, feels authentic.
is Ben Affleck's chance to assert himself as a filmmaker that is more concerned with telling intriguing stories than exploring a specific culture or place, and he succeeds in every respect. The story is compelling, the actors near perfect, and the production design is meticulously detailed. But beyond the film's success as a piece of cinema, it's Affleck's ability to step outside his comfort zone and still deliver a must-see film that proves he's only just beginning.
If there's one area that Affleck excels as a director it's his ability to get high caliber performances out of his actors. Across the board, Argo is filled with spectacular performances from even the smallest roles. The dynamic created between "the six" is allowed time to develop and evolve in such a way that you truly believe these people have become unhinged as a result of their condition. By extension, you feel for their plight and want nothing more than to see the plan succeed.
As was mentioned earlier, the real standouts of the film are Alan Arkin as aged film producer Lester Siegel and John Goodman as make-up artist John Chambers. The two are able to create such a wonderful rapport that you want to hear more of their story. As well, their scenes help instill the film with some much needed levity before Affleck's character must head off to Iran. Affleck might be the emotional center of the film, and he delivers an exceptional performance as the over-worked and disenfranchised Mendez, but it's Arkin and Goodman that standout a tiny bit above the rest.