Argo Directed by Ben Affleck Written by Chris Terrio Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Clea DuVall, Philip Baker Hall Warner Bros. Pictures Rated R | 120 Minutes Release Date: October 12, 2012
So you want to come to Hollywood and and act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in.
In 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, Islamic militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran and hold 52 Americans hostage. During the chaos, six men and women are able to flee the embassy before becoming hostages, seeking sanctuary at Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor’s home.
The Central Intelligence Agency and its retrieval specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) concoct an unorthodox plan to help the six U.S. embassy employees escape Iran. Under the guise that they’re scouting exotic locations for a futuristic, science-fiction film called Argo, the six Americans will play the part of Canadian filmmakers so they can leave the country safely.
Directed by Ben Affleck, Argo is based on the true, declassified story that took place during the Iran Hostage crisis. Chris Terrio wrote the screenplay based on the 2007 Wired article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran” by Joshuah Bearman. CIA agent Tony Mendez’s heroic work was kept top secret until President Bill Clinton lifted the mission’s classified status in 1997.
Mendez enlists the help of John Chambers (John Goodman), a famous make-up artist known for the Planet of the Apes series, and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a Hollywood producer with enough clout to circulate a fake Star Wars rip-off through the industry to give it credibility.
When Mendez pitches the idea to the CIA, they laugh. Of course, compared to the CIA’s initial plans to send in bicycles and have the six Americans peddle 300 miles to the border, the Argo film seemed like the only somewhat rational idea. As Mendez’s CIA boss, played by Bryan Cranston, tells his superiors, “This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.”
With three films, Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, Ben Affleck has become one of America’s finest up-and-coming filmmakers. While he isn’t quite distinguishable as an auteur yet, Affleck is incredibly smart in assembling the perfect cast and crew for a project. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Babel, Brokeback Mountain) and his unconventional use of the camera enhances the impeccable recreation of the 1979-80 world.
Argo‘s ensemble includes Victor Garber as Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, Kyle Chandler as Carter White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan, and Tate Donovan and Clea DuVall as two of the stranded Americans. Often the process of filmmaking is akin to assembling a colossal puzzle – you have a million pieces scattered about, and your job as director is to organize those imperfect shapes into something that resembles a picture. If nothing else, Affleck is an expert at solving puzzles – like Rain Man with a Rubik’s Cube.
With fantastic performances (including his own as Mendez) and consistently beautiful photography by Prieto, Argo is one of the best films of the year – a tight, suspenseful thriller that feels incredibly relevant as our uneasy relationship with Iran continues.
It also works as a pretty fantastic Hollywood movie – a film that enthusiasts will enjoy for their behind-the-scenes look at the ’70s film industry. With a brief cameo by Michael Parks as legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby, and plenty of references to pop culture including Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Planet of the Apes, Argo fully encapsulates the late ’70s and never feels less than convincing.
It’s hard to imagine a movie this good not snagging its fair share of nominations come award season. As a sound period piece and political thriller (based on a true story), Argo is destined to receive a few statues for its stylish direction, taut, multifaceted script, and an impressive ensemble cast.