Based on the real life story of the CIA operation to rescue Iranian embassy workers who escape just before the embassy is taken by Iranian revolutionaries in 1979, Ben Affleck's third turn at directing sees some of his best work yet. Apart from some irritating factual problems, ie-the British and New Zealand embassies turned the escaped Americans away. Ah no! In fact they both took them in and helped them in numerous ways. But besides those little factual mistakes 'Argo' is a true life story, which is what makes it so thrilling.
With an excellent cast, including Affleck himself as the lead character CIA operative Tony Mendez, as well as Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman, the acting abilities of the cast are excellent. Affleck balances the seriousness of his own character with the light humour and relief provided by Arkin and Goodman. Screenwriter Chris Terrio deserves more credit than most in creating an excellent screenplay to make up for any short fallings in Affleck's directing abilities.
The production design is also remarkable, with the capture of 70s America and Iran done superbly. Affleck used the Washington Post headquarter scenes from 'All The President's Men' to model the government and CIA offices in 'Argo', and the two films share their suspenseful, gentle but well paced style. Whilst at times it becomes a little silly, it is saved by a dark comic undertone and the ever growing build up.
Most worth of 'Best Picture', Affleck has been betrayed by the Academy by being refused a nomination for Best Director, again. But he can rejoice in sculpting and overseeing an excellent film which really does keep you on the edge of your seats, a rare achievement for most 'thrillers' these days.
Based on true events, this is the riveting story of a joint covert operation between the CIA and the Canadian government to rescue 6 American diplomats trapped in Tehran during the Iran Hostage Crisis of the late 70s/early 80s. The six managed to escape the U.S. Embassy and find shelter with the Canadian Consul. But just because they were they doesn't mean they were out of harms way.
Besides directing and producing, Affleck stars as CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez. The plan he comes up with as a cover for the rescue operation is a great one: he gets Hollywood makeup artist/occasional CIA consultant John Chambers to help him (along with film producer Lester Siegel) create a fake science fantasy adventure film called Argo that is to be shot in the Middle East, with Tony and the six diplomats posing as the film crew.
The film has a top notch cast, with John Goodman as Chambers, Oscar nominated Alan Arkin as SIegel, and various other roles filled by Bryan Cranston Victor Garber, Taylor Schilling, and RIchard Kind, Kyle Chandler, and a crap load of others. Of the six people playing the diplomats, the most notable (for me at least) were Clea DuVall and Rory Cochrane (Slater from Dazed and Confused. All of these people, no matter how brief their appearance, are all rock solid. The film is somewhat unbalanced as far as extreme depth and development go, but we get just enough to keep people from being totally one dimensional.
The story is fascinating, and really holds your attention, rarely letting up. Yeah, some fabrications are done to heighten the tension, drama, and make the story more cinematically exciting, but those are minor quibbles. I just honestly can't believe that the central ruse that was used is actually true. I have a love/hate thing with the CIA, but this idea was cool, but maybe that's just because I'm a sucker for movie making and films about it. Maybe the biggest gripe I have is the interpretative change that the movie does by downplaying the role of the Canadian government and putting the emphasis on the CIA. They could have found a way to make it more balanced, but it may have resulted in a longer, more expensive film, so I guess I can let it go.
The film is well shot, tightly edited, Affleck gives some solid direction, and the look of this film is great. The costumes, hairstyles, and touches done to bring the time period alive are impeccable. Like many, I'm bummed that Affleck was snubbed a directing nod, but at least that was made up for by the film winning best picture (nabbing him a statue since he also produced it). The music ain't too shabby, either.
One could argue that the release of the film isn't exactly timely, and the portrayal of Iranians is a little insensitive, but given the subject matter, it is rather fitting and true to the era. All in all, this is a sterling piece of work, and one I have no trouble recommending.