Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
Argo is a dramatization and captivating thriller about the CIA and Canadian led rescue mission of six U.S. diplomats in Iran in the late 1970s, early 1980s. The film is clever, funny and proficiently suspenseful in all the right parts. Some films try too hard with special effects or bullshit gaffes to bring the audience in and create tension. Not Argo. It creates excellent tension with perfect editing and timing, as well as great performances that leave the movie with no dull moments. Director and co-star Ben Affleck has proven again that he has got what it takes to be a poised and successful director. The films last twenty minutes are truly nail biting and a pure assurance of Affleck's ability to direct and tell a compelling story.
After the Shah has been overrun and put into exile in the U.S., Iranian revolutionaries invade the U.S. embassy in Tehran and hold hostage several U.S. diplomats. The Iranians want the exiled Shah brought back to the homeland. Six Americans managed to walk out of the embassy and found a safe haven at the house of a Canadian diplomat Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). While the CIA and the State Department delve into various rescue scenarios including having them ride bikes 300 miles to the Turkish border or be agriculture workers, which neither will work due to the excessive bike travel and wintry conditions. The CIA chief Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) brings in extractor Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to solve the quandary. With the help of hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and a Hollywood producer Lester Seigel (Alan Arkin), they create a fake movie to shoot in Iran with the objective to get the six Americans out of Iran. Ridiculous, yes. Insane, yes. But its the best option they have and sets in motion the movie about the fake movie that got these diplomats out of Tehran.
Argo is a captivating, spellbinding and intelligent thriller that at the same time has many elements of humor to mellow out the tension. It's part docudrama, part suspenseful thriller and part comedy. The performances are so exceptional, especially from Goodman and Arkin. They are extremely at ease and definitely bring the humor element throughout the whole film. They are both worthy of Academy Award recognition, even if there screen time is limited. Affleck is very subdued in his performance, being a separated father with a son that he doesn't get to see very often. Cranston as the CIA chief is brilliant and continues on this great acting streak of his, especially with his award winning role in the TV show Breaking Bad. And the six diplomats in hiding are well acted as well. Nervous, paranoid and one, played by the up-and-coming Scoot McNairy, seriously doubts the objective and possibility of this rescue mission. Who wouldn't? The idea is crazy. Walk six diplomats to the airport and fly out of Iran, that the Iranians eventually figure out are missing and are looking for, in broad daylight.
Ben Affleck has created a film that, while its not a masterpiece like some critics out of the Telluride and Toronto Film Festival's were claiming it to be, is a classic piece of film making. Affleck's directing is superb and his attention to detail is so important in this period piece. The costumes are dead on, especially the large framed glasses and hairstyles. The use of real newsreel footage adds to the quality and is important in setting the time and serious mood this hostage situation had on the U.S. and the world. The material, being declassified by President Clinton in 1997 and the article written by Joshuah Bearman in 2007 about how the U.S. created a fake sci-fi film to rescue these Americans. The one problem is the minimized importance placed on the Canadians themselves. Without the help of the Canadian diplomat in Tehran and the cooperation of the Canadian government, the rescue mission may not of taken place. But its doesn't take away from the quality of the film. It felt like a film out of the seventies. The great spy and paranoia thrillers like The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor. The film focused on tension, a really exceptional script from Chris Terrio and an honest last twenty minutes that are no bullshit, some of the best suspense I've seen in years and really bring the movie to a fantastic and gripping close.
Ben Affleck's Argo is a high caliber, highly joyous piece of Hollywood cinema. It's what a film should be: not pretentious and not all flashy and CGI driven. It focuses on the story and is directed with an excellent eye and profound suspense. This is the kind of film that should be coming out of Hollywood, but sadly doesn't always, so you have to enjoy it when you see it. Production value is great and the acting superb and experienced, but the real greatness is in the job Affleck has done directing. He's created a great little resume for himself with the dramas Gone Baby Gone and The Town, but with Argo he has proven himself to be an exceptional and truly gifted director.