You know a movie is good when it is based on real-life events – and uncertain, you cling to the edge of your seat anyway.
So it is with the film “Argo,” Ben Affleck’s third time out as director of a feature film.
The film opens in 1979 with the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Iran by militants. Several American hostages are taken at the embassy, while six consulate employees (four men, two women) manage to actually escape out the back and are given shelter by the Canadian ambassador at his residence. The scenes that take place at the U.S. Embassy are frightening enough – the fear is doubled down on seeing the danger that the escapees are exposed to right after.
From there, it’s a race against the clock as Iranian militants try to piece together evidence as to where all the American embassy workers are – while every idea the CIA comes up with for rescuing the six seems to have a huge hole in it.
Enter Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), master CIA operative. After pitching the wild idea of pretending to shoot a Canadian Sci Fi film in Iran to give covers to the six U.S. consulate staffers, Mendez gets clearance and goes to – ta dah! Hollywood. It turns out that the CIA and Hollywood are no strangers to each other – John Chambers (John Goodman), the make-up artist who won an Oscar for his work on the original “Planet of the Apes,” is the go-to guy for disguises in helping the CIA, and Mendez needs him for the operation.
Chambers introduces Mendez to producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), and the three set about making a fake film appear real. They find a script – “Argo” – which was based on the novel ”Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny. The trio also has the press attend a script read-through (complete with Intergalactic characters).
All is set for the final part of the plan – for Mendez to go in, rescue the six, and get out. But nothing is as clear-cut as it would seem, and complication after complication occurs. Will the six U.S. embassy workers remember their “film crew” cover stories? Will they get stopped at one of the several security checkpoints? Will their immense terror give them away?
Affleck does a great job of interspersing the danger of seven people possibly being exposed (and executed) in a unstable nation, while at the same time showing a funny side with the craziness of Hollywood – throwing in the inner workings of the White House and the CIA to boot.
Arkin and Goodman shine in their roles as Hollywood veterans, as if they’ve known each other all their lives, while Affleck gives an understated tense performance as Mendez.
The movie comes at a strange time in U.S. history with the events now occurring in the Middle East, which makes the film even more fascinating – and chilling.
Definitely an Oscar contender, one that should be at the top of the nominations list – it would be worth it, if only to see Mr. Mendez come back to Hollywood for a visit at the Academy Awards come February.