The story of “Argo” begins with a singular crazy idea involving Hollywood, the CIA and the Iranian conflict. The idea is this — in order to safely sneak six American hostages currently seeking refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador out of Iran, why not have them pose as a fake film crew for a fake movie?
The idea is preposterous, and operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) presents the idea to a room full of CIA bigwigs who seem awfully unconvinced. And if the film didn’t carry with it a “Based on a true story” title card, I may have been just as incredulous. It’s hard to take such a silly scheme seriously, especially when proposed by a man with a haircut as goofy as Ben Affleck has in this film.
But if there’s one thing Affleck nails, especially atop his head, it is the look of the 1970s. The third directorial feature from Affleck, “Argo” is an example of the filmmaker constantly hitting his targets. He not only captures the period well, but also very fluently communicates the tense Iranian conflict that was reaching its limits in 1979, when the central plan of “Argo” was put into motion.
The plan involved creating a fake science fiction film — Mendez collaborated in real life with make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and in the film with the amalgamated personality of fictional producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).
Together, they purchased the screenplay to a standard issue science fiction film called “Argo,” built buzz for the movie, did a reading of the script for press and public, and Mendez eventually travels to Iran with the intention of disguising the six American hostages as his film crew, safely sneaking them out. The movie will never happen. But the rescue must.
The source material to “Argo” is quite nuts, but paves the way for a very entertaining, very funny and very suspenseful thriller that further solidifies Affleck’s standing as a contemporary director to watch. Still, nothing has surpassed his masterful debut of “Gone Baby Gone,” but “Argo” is most certainly a step up from the “The Town,” which had an epic scope but often suffered under the weight of its own silliness.
“Argo” needn’t worry about silliness, aside from Affleck’s hair, because the truth behind this tale will endlessly fascinate. I knew nothing of this mission and watching these events unfold while being conscious of their important place in American, Canadian and Iranian history is an interesting experience. Affleck’s film not only entertains, it generously educates as well.
Swapping between Mendez’s mission, the trapped conditions of the hostages, the witty back-and-forth chemistry between Goodman and Arkin’s Hollywood adventures, the CIA headquarters (giving actor Bryan Cranston a chance to really shine outside of TV’s “Breaking Bad,” a great performance given here), and giving good insight into the Iranian conflict at the time, Affleck effortlessly rides the waves of tricky tonal shifts with ease.
The film balances out perfectly in the end. The comedy is golden and the drama is solid, with Affleck shining both on screen and behind the camera. “Argo” entertains, suspends the audiences and stirs the emotions. If there is any film of 2012 more appropriate of being deemed a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, I have yet to find it.
Argo 3 1/2 out of 4 Stars