Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Chris Terrio
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Victor Garber
Argo is further proof that Ben Affleck the actor should take a back seat to Ben Affleck the director; or he should simply direct himself more often.
Argo is based on the true story of what would come to be called the “Canadian Caper”. In 1979 Iran, six Americans escaped the U.S. Embassy before it fell to protestors. They sought & received asylum at the home of Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), the Canadian Ambassador. Back in the U.S., both the State Department and C.I.A. propose different plans to rescue them before the Iranian authorities realize they are missing from the hostages being kept in the embassy. Eventually the “best bad idea” is selected for the mission.
Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) goes to Hollywood to establish the cover story of a Canadian film crew traveling to Iran for location scouting. In Hollywood he enlists the aid of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Together they purchase a script, set up an office, draw-up story boards, and create a public relations event that is featured in Variety. With the front companies in place, fake bios created, and the aid of the Canadian government, Tony Mendez flies to Tehran to get the Americans out.
The story is suspenseful and keeps your heart pounding, interjected with the right amount of humor–never forced, but natural to the situation. The Hollywood scenes are a perfect example of truth in humor; we laugh because they are funny, and we laugh because they are true. Humor in the government scenes at the C.I.A., State Department, and White House is used by the characters to defuse tense situations. But the Tehran scenes are kept tense; everyone at a breaking point where humor will not help.
Affleck has crafted a tight film with no wasted images. Everything on-screen is there to service the story, develop character, or establish place. The prologue is original. It quickly & effectively gives you the condensed version of Iranian history to that point and how the U.S. has been involved with it. Once the actual story begins, Affleck puts you in the chaos of the streets and makes you feel the silent panic of the embassy staff. His only negative being his penchant for one too many close calls.
The cast deliver nuanced performances. Affleck as Tony Mendez is the career spook; tired but dedicated–so much so that his relationship with his family is damaged. The Americans are ordinary people: the couple whose wife pleaded that they leave the country while the husband insisted on staying to better their careers; the man looking to improve trade in order to sell American equipment to Iranian farmers. Ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary circumstance. All showing the strain and stress of their situation, and eventual strength they will need to get out of it. Victor Garber delivers a sublime performance. A man who has the strength of character to do what is right and accept the ramifications of that decision, but who is also practical in his understanding of the possible outcome of these events.
It is the result of great skill by both the writer and director that even though we know from history where this story will go, we are in the edge of our seats the whole way getting there.
Grade = A-
PS For comic book fans, if the style of the storyboards in the film look familiar, then you’ll realize why during the cast of character credits or the special “Thank You”s at the end of the film.