Argo is based on one of the true stories about the Iran Hostage Crisis that began in 1979. This film focuses on the rescue of six American Embassy employees who escaped the Embassy and hid at the Canadian Ambassador’s house. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is a CIA agent who creates the story of a fake Hollywood film, Argo, being possibly filmed in Iran. The cover is that these six Americans are part of the crew who go with Tony to tour possible locations for the movie. To do this, a proper Hollywood movie script, production company, and press releases and events are put on and created to make sure that the movie is seen as legit. Makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Seigel (Alan Arkin) agree to back up the fake movie and maintain complete silence on what the movie really is.
This is Ben Affleck’s third feature film where he has sat in the director’s chair, and the second where he has acted in it as well. He certainly is becoming one of those great directors, and even if he stops acting, he will have a long career as a director. Affleck kicked it up another notch with Argo considering this is based on a true story. He could not veer too far from the known story, and it is such an important event that it deserves to be done well. Complicating this film is that it is set in the past and required recreating a hostile foreign land.
The film starts out with a brilliant montage of story boards that tell the background on what is going on in Iran up to the point of the Embassy attack. It is reminiscent of something you might see in a superhero film, and it is used well in this context.
After the events of the American Embassy takeover and the Hostage Crisis begins, the film drops in its level of tension and urgency. I was afraid that this film might turn out to be another boring Munich. The switch in settings to Hollywood lightened the mood of the film considerably as jokes become the norm about how Hollywood works. Both John Goodman and Alan Arkin work well together as the team that helps the CIA in this operation.
The film gets really good as soon as Tony Mendez arrives in Iran and meets with these six Americans. There are plenty of nail biting, heart racing moments in Argo. Who am I kidding? It is actually all of that and more as soon as the plan starts in Iran. It is pretty relentless until the end. This is not a film to see if you are in the mood to sit back and relax at the movies. I won’t spoil the ending for you, and if you really want to know what happens, it is part of our history since its declassification in 1997.
The cast is enormous. Even some very recognizable and well known actors have small parts. Apart from the actors playing the six Americans stuck in Iran, Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Bryan Cranston (playing a CIA boss), many actors only have a few minutes on screen, if that. Among those actors are Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Titus Welliver, Zeljko Ivanek, and Richard Kind. All of these actors played an important character in Argo. The script and the film could have glossed over many of these people and pared down the film to only the integral characters. However, I believe keeping all of these characters in the film made for a much more believable film, being able to see all that was going on behind the scenes of this ingenious plan.
While I did enjoy Argo, I get the impression that many liked it more than I did. I would have liked it more if it did not drop in momentum towards the beginning of the film. It comes too close to being placed in the boring category, but Argo recovers really well once the Argo mission begins. Ben Affleck created another film that will be widely admired and more than likely garnered with a nomination or two come awards season. While it is a good film, it makes it all the more impressive because it is based on a true CIA mission. I would encourage you to stay through the beginning of the end credits to learn who each actor played in real life and what happened after the mission ended.
I give Argo 3.5 “bad 70s mustaches” out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek