In 1979, Iranian revolutionaries storm the American embassy. Six diplomats make a hasty escape and find themselves taken in by the Canadian ambassador who shelters them in his home for several months. CIA agent Affleck is given the task of devising a way to get them out without causing an international incident. Having exhausted several ideas, he comes up with a "so crazy it just might work" scheme inspired by watching 'Battle for the Planet of the Apes'. To pull off said scheme, he enlists the aid of John Chambers (Goodman), the make-up expert responsible for bringing the movie's talking apes to life, and Lester Siegel (Arkin), an aging tough-as-nails producer. The trio use their various skills to provide the background that will act as cover for the rescue mission. Affleck heads to Iran and meets the six diplomats who must pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie.
When it was first rumored that Affleck would pursue a career behind the camera, much scoffing could be heard. Now, three films into that career, his critics are well and truly left with egg on their faces as the actor has proven himself one of the best American film-makers of his generation. 'Argo' is his third film, following 'Gone Baby Gone' and 'The Town', and while it's certainly his most ambitious, it's arguably his weakest.
Affleck's film feels like three different movies strewn together. The first act, and by far the strongest, sets up the situation and feels like a homage to the political thrillers of the seventies. A host of quality character actors fill the various roles, those directly caught up in Iran and those working behind the scenes Stateside. The period recreation is spot on without hammering home any crude pop culture references. The second act irritatingly takes a wild turn into comedy as the action switches to Hollywood. Affleck seems to have looked to 'Get Shorty' for inspiration, pounding us with rock tunes and overplayed jokes. While the characters of the first act felt wholly real, Arkin and Goodman are nothing more than typical Hollywood stereotypes. They're both fine actors but carry too much comedic baggage to make the roles truly come alive. The final act thankfully moves to Iran and gives Affleck a chance to flex his directorial muscles. Though he's facing the issue of trying to create tension when the audience already knows the outcome, he does a fine job albeit taking it one set-piece too far with a runway chase that looks like it belongs in a bad eighties action movie.
Talk of an Oscar is an exaggeration of the film's quality but fans of seventies cinema will, for the most part, enjoy the wild tale Affleck spins. Sci-fi fans will also appreciate the many nods to the genre.