Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort, “Argo,” tells the recently declassified story of a little known escape during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Heavily hyped as being based on a true story, the actual events make for some pretty nail biting cinema.
The film opens on the hostile takeover of the United States Embassy in Tehran. As fear mounts and American employees hasten to destroy government records and batten down the embassy’s hatches, a group of six covertly escapes through the back door, taking refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s residence a few streets away.
As their fellow countrymen live as hostages, these six hide out in relative comfort for several months. The Canadians don’t want the responsibility anymore, and the Americans fear that if the Iranians find them, the escapees will be made into examples by public execution.
Enter Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA staffer who specializes in “exfiltration;” basically he gets people out of dangerous situations. He immediately rejects the original escape plan: give the group six bikes, maps to the border and best wishes for their survival. As he’s brainstorming, Mendez chats with his son over the phone (he and his wife are estranged, another reason for the audience to sympathize) and has an epiphany–what if they were a film crew?
Given the late-70s trend for science fiction movies, Mendez decides that one of the most far-fetched (and therefore least suspicious) ways of exfiltrating these citizens is to pass them off as a Canadian film crew looking for an exotic location to film the next Star Wars rip-off. What’s even more unbelievable than this plan is the fact that the CIA okayed it.
To make the film seem legit, Mendez goes to Hollywood where he contacts John Chambers (John Goodman), a prosthetics designer who has worked with the CIA in the past. They begin spreading the buzz about their upcoming film–they choose a film called “Argo”–but things don’t really get going until they have their producer, played hilariously by Alan Arkin, who proclaims that if he’s going to make a fake movie, “it’s going to be a fake hit.” Once all the groundwork has been laid in stateside, there’s nothing left for Mendez to do but carry it out.
Once again, Affleck proves that as a director, he’s got chops. The real-life story is so outlandish that it’s automatically the stuff of good cinema. Kendall Woods ’14 called the film “better than I anticipated.” Affleck does slip into some bad Hollywood habits by exaggerating some of the escape sequences, and perhaps the denouement is overly indulgent, but most of the movie is interesting, tense and emotionally involved. Though probably not much of a contender come Oscar time, “Argo” is not too shabby for an off-season opener.