If, after two other films, you still have doubts about Ben Affleck as a director, Argo will put them to rest.
Having been a mere twinkle in my mother’s eye at the time the Iran hostage situation began to play out, I went into this film with only a vague notion of what it was about. Turns out, it’s the other part of the story.
After the US offered asylum to the former Iranian shah, the general Iranian public was pissed and demanded his return. What happened next is public knowledge: they broke into the US Embassy in Tehran and took sixty people hostage. What wasn’t known until 1997, when it was declassified, was six people managed to slip out the back door and find refuge in the residence of the Canadian ambassador (played by Victor Garber).
As the story unfolds, we see the lengths the CIA goes to as far as these six are concerned. Under the guise of filming a movie, Tony Mendez (Affleck) sets out to Tehran to turn the six into a film crew: camera man, screenwriter, director, producer, production designer, and associate producer. They are given new Canadian aliases. Their plans to leave immediately are scrapped with the ministry of culture demands to take them on a tour of the Grand Baazar. When they finally make it to the airport, we’re on the edge every step of the way, from the snafus at the ticket counter to the three checkpoints they must pass through to get to the gate.
You get the sense that you’ve seen this before, the anti-US sentiment, the hangings, the kangaroo courts, the flag burnings, the indignant nationalist broadcasts. And then you realize you have seen it before, more recently, in Iran, in Afghanistan, in Libya.
But you have to remember this one came first.
Affleck’s Mendez is quiet, doing his best not to draw attention to himself, which is probably what makes him such a good spy. He is not prone to loudness or outbursts. His utter confidence he will succeed in his mission is thrown in to stark contrast when he’s alone in his hotel, chain-smoking and downing Scotch like water.
The film isn’t without levity. There are plenty of one-liners to keep it from falling into morose territory, most delivered by John Goodman (as Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers) and Alan Arkin (producer Lester Siegel). The rest of the cast is rounded out with both familiar names (Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler) and faces (Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Zeljko Ivanek) all of whom turn in stellar performances.
But the tension rules, and even though we know how the story ends, you can’t help but squeeze your fingers together as you stare at the screen, urging them to move just a little bit faster.
In other words, it’s so good, I’m making the BF see it.