In Argo, CIA operative Antonio Mendez (played by Ben Affleck), attempts to aid six American U.S. Embassy workers in escaping an angry Iranian territory on the brink of revolution.
The Americans stay with a Canadian ambassador and his wife until the Canadian prime minister decides that having the six “houseguests” is a political liability and not a human act of kindness.
Meanwhile, the Iranian rebels are upset because the U.S. Embassy is harboring their former tyrannical leader who tortured his own people in the name of trying to force their Shiite society to Westernize. A sect of the rebels, who happen to be students, have stormed the U.S. Embassy and taken more than 40 Americans hostage.
These people were held captive for 444 days.
Based on a true story of a declassified CIA mission, screenwriter Chris Terrio (from the article Escape from Tehran by Joshuah Bearman) weaves together this account in which a CIA operative and two Hollywood types — Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (John Goodman) — try to fake getting a movie made in Iran so that the American “houseguests” can pose as filmmakers and leave the country safely.
Affleck, serving as director and producer as well as lead actor, and Terrio are obviously great lovers of suspense. They keep audiences on the edges of their seats with the pressured-packed nuances of will-they-or-won’t-they get caught. Taking theatergoers through a maze of lucky coincidences that must be the work of a being higher than the film’s director makes the end result all the more satisfying.
This is how Hollywood can make a movie about a real story and keep it entertaining. Although plenty of creative license is taken with the truth, with a film such as Argo that not only tells a real-life story in an engaging way, but gives its audience a glimpse into the real Hollywood, one can forgive those other missteps.
Affleck as Mendez is superb in bringing Mendez to life, with the exception that Affleck looks nothing like Mendez, who is a Latino. If you’re going to tell a story based on true events, you should try to get it as authentic as possible.
It’s hard to overlook Affleck substituting for a man who looks nothing like him, especially since all the other characters closely resemble their real-life counterparts.
Arkin as Lester is his usual Arkin-ness, always finding a way to make serious situations funny without cracking a smile. His brand of deadpan isn’t often seen onscreen these days — most people go for the slapstick, quick laugh.
But like relationships, there should a natural buildup for maximum results.
Goodman as the lovable and refreshingly honest John represents the Hollywood type in this film. He says in the sincerest way possible those things that the audience is thinking. Among other actors of note, Bryan Cranston as Jack O’Donnell, Antonio’s boss, plays put-upon middle management well.
Victor Garber as Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who houses the six Americans for three months before their rescue, plays Ken so safe that one would forget he’s in the film.
Of the six “houseguests” — Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham) and Kathey Stafford (Kerry Bishe) — McNairy’s Joe is the weakest link, yet the one who saves the day. McNairy gives depth to an otherwise anxious and grating character.
Affleck proves once again that he is a great filmmaker. Argo is a shining example of art imitating life in an engaging way, that highlights a scary period of time in American history where anger was the ruling emotion.