For his third directorial feature Ben Affleck continues his straightforward and wide-eyed approach to filmmaking, which results in yet another stimulating and triumphant caper.
Based off the now declassified events centered around the hostage crisis in Iran circa 1979-80, Affleck opens his film with one of his distinguished trade marks: narration over a series of animated cards – in this case describing the context of the Iranian revolution, while also effectively laying out the time and place of our story.
Six brave Americans managed to escape the American embassy as the Iranian people took over the building. In a state of desperation the remaining US citizens flee to the Canadian ambassador, where they’re graciously taken before they could be spotted by civilians.
This is where Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), an exfiltration specialist for the CIA, comes into play. The mission is to get these six US diplomats out of Tehran without it resulting in bloodshed.
Mendez and colleague Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) come up with an idea, admittedly the “best bad idea they could come up with”, to have the half dozen Americans pose a Canadian film crew on a location scout for a new sci-fi, middle eastern epic entitled Argo.
The stakes and the tension continue to rise as the film progresses. Mendez has a small amount of time to head to Hollywood to work with veterans John Chambers (a makeup artist played by John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (a producer played by Alan Arkin) in making plausible cover identities for the hostages.
Argo, the real film not the fake one, showcases Ben Affleck’s impeccable talent to fuse heart-rending drama with social commentary, punctuated by some genuine comedy. Even at the film’s most tense and nail-biting moments, Affleck and company seamlessly tie in humor from Chambers, Lester, and Tony: it’s welcomed levity that miraculously doesn’t disrupt the ebb and flow of the picture.
There’s subtext centered on this country’s incessant need to impose values where they are not wanted, or to provide assistance where assistance is not welcomed. Argo poignantly examines what transpired over an objectively failed Carter presidency, and displays yet another example of America putting their nose into something that isn’t there business.
And speaking of business, Hollywood – which is earnestly and cleverly portrayed here – is prone to calibrating these hyper-jingoistic, soullessly conceived, and ineptly written pieces of action filmmaking, disguising as some form of adult entertainment (and no, not the pornographic kind). With typically unfound maturity, Affleck paints a canvas for each of his characters (and the respective actors that play them) to discuss politics, corruption, and foreign policy with diligence and intellect. Argo is never coy, but it’s effective and affecting in its blend of realism and humor.
All of this is tantamount to an evocative and scintillating, politically charged crescendo — keeping the viewer on the edge of their seats for 120-minutes with real stakes based off real events surrounding a fake movie.