Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chis Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Ken Garber
1979. The Iranian hostage crisis grabbed hold of our nation and refused to let go. So many days spent by the television set waiting for the news, so many yellow ribbons tied around oak trees. There was, however, a much smaller crisis within the bigger scope of the hostage situation that our film takes the time to shine a light on. Six Americans who worked at the US embassy within Iran manage to escape the building before the angry waves of Iranian protestors stormed the building. They took refuge within the residence of the Canadian ambassador and it was there they waited. Sitting, waiting, praying and trying to hold on to hope in a time where there was very little as revolution was sweeping the nation for more than 400 days.
Argo is brought to us by Ben Affleck who also stars as the film's hero, Tony Mendez. Chris Terrio's script is taut and approaches the rather bizarre political landscape of the time with a subtlety that is refreshing. This could have easily been a big boisterous flag-waving rescue mission of a movie that could have become more farce than anthing else considering the scheme at hand yet there is an even-handed approach to even the film's most ludicrious moments that tempers everything. The tale of how a CIA man teaming up with two old-line Hollywood men to make a fake movie all so they can bust those six Americans out of Iran is ludicrious enough. A lot of movies say that they're based on true stories. This all actually happened.
Affleck's direction is sudued at times much like his portrayal of Mendez. Tony Mendez as the CIA extraction expert doesn't waste words nor does he really look much like a G-man. His partners in crime, played brilliantly by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, provide a healthy dose of humor in a story that is equal parts outlandish and downright intense. He has proven to be a capable director before with movies like The Town and Gone Baby Gone but this is truly his coming of age as a filmmaker. His off-screen collaborators, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and editor William Goldberg managed to give us a brief window into the surreal reality that was the hostage crisis and the rather cockamamie scheme that somehow worked against all odds.
The thing you'll notice as you go along through the movie's brisk run-time of 2 hours is that the tension and the thrills come not from car chases or scenes involving gunplay but from the fact that this entire plan is so crazy that it is perfectly plausible. The whole time you wonder just how the hell did the Iranians not pick up on things quicker? The brilliance of the film comes from the fact that the timing and the execution of this oddball plan provides us with these best moments of nail-biting tension throughout. It also shows just how much people love the movies. A film crew goes to Iran of all places during that big of a national situation? There is a downright charming scene in which Mendez is showing off storyboards to security guards at the airport. You can see just how much their trying to stifle their excitement at it. The look on their faces when a few of the boards are left behind in their possession is priceless.
The film as nominated as a Best Picture nominee at this year's Oscar ceremony. It also won, though Affleck did not get a nod for directing. Much like Tarantino I think he got snubbed here. It is not my personal best film of the year but my goodness is it a very very close second to Django. It is a wonderfully scripted bit of thrilling espionage history that tells the world of the story of Mr. Mendez and his hair-brained scheme to save American lives. Stick around after the credits start to roll as there is a very interesting message from a certain important figure of the times who even adds his two cents into the mix.
Argo is available on Blu-Ray/DVD/digital distribution now and is WELL worth a rental. I feel strange that I somehow didn't get around to seeing this in theaters but it is worth a look.