In 1980 a top secret operation was carried out by the CIA to rescue civilians from a revolutionary movement in Iran. The story was declassified only recently, and Argo tells the principle story of how one man’s unlikely plan was the only option.
The film’s title Argo, is the title of a science fiction film script that was never put into production yet was the linchpin of the CIA operation. Tony Mendez (Ben Afleck) would go to Iran, find the six American Embassy workers in hiding, and give them safe passage out of the country under the guise of the film’s production executives.
Putting aside the film’s obvious credibility as an eye-opening true story, it is a solid piece of film making to boot! I can’t say I’ve been bothered about Afleck’s struggling career as director and actor (The Town was sorely lacking) but with Argo he appears to be maturing and gives this serious historical account an honest telling. It isn’t Hollywood or glamorous; it is shot extremely well, using a lot of retro set design and costume design, as well as – presumably – television footage from the original News coverage.
Bonus points for Afleck’s rather silent protagonist. If you don’t like his acting, he has given himself the least to do. While Tony Mendez has family and he is risking his life, Afleck’s mood throughout the film is delivered with stony stares and control (he has to though; the character is leading six paranoid strangers on a wild, dangerous mission). It is clear they did a precise job casting each of the characters involved, very good doppelgangers… except for Afleck.
It is a grim affair to be sure, we see Iran in a state of conflicted identity and merciless prejudice, yet the film does have moments of relaxation, after all, they are pretending to shoot a fake science fiction movie! Enter John Goodman as John Chambers (real life film make-up artist legend, who had worked on Planet of the Apes and Star Trek, and before that making prosthetics for war veterans) who gives some great tasteful comedy relief.
It is an intense ride towards the end; the last twenty minutes are fraught with paranoia and fearful glances as the group try to escape. (The film made me think of a contemporary The Great Escape) It has great pacing, its two hour run time flies by.
It is an insightful and intense thriller, and isn’t just Afleck’s best effort but also an excellent film in general.