by Rick Grant
Based on a true story, this movie revisits the hostage stand-off in 1980 when fanatical Iranian militants stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took all the embassy staff hostage. However, six of the embassy personnel escaped and took shelter in the Canadian Embassy.
Ben Affleck directs with meticulous attention to the 1980 period detail. He also stars as CIA operative Tony Mendez who is tasked with getting the hostages out of this caldron of boiling emotional hysteria, erupting throughout the country. News footage is cleverly woven into the mosaic to give the viewer the perspective of a whole country gone stark raving mad.
Chris Terrio and Joshuah Bearman’s script is surprisingly comedic. John Goodman plays movie mogul, John Chambers, and Alan Arkin plays producer Lester Siegel. These two veteran actors almost steal the movie with their funny lines, such as, when Mendez says to Chambers, “I want to make a fake movie,” and Chambers says, “You’ve come to the right place. Everything is fake in Hollywood.”
Brian Cranston plays Jack O’Donnell, Mendez’s control agent. Mendez’s idea was to have all the elements of a real movie, from a real script with a story board. He would have the six embassy staff play the roles of the movie production team. Mendez gave each one of them a fake biography. He had them memorize every detail because he knew that the Iranian officials would question them. Mendez was putting his own life on the line to get these innocent people out of the country. Indeed, this was a risky mission with plenty of chances for things to go wrong.
O’Donnell is skeptical that the mission will succeed, but he green-lights it because Mendez has a perfect record of extracting agents and diplomats from hot spots. So everything goes as planned until the Iranians paste together the shredded strips they captured from the embassy and find out there are 6 missing embassy staff members unaccounted for.
The stage is set with Mendez setting up a phony office with Chambers taking any calls. He even throws a casting call party in case Iranian spies are watching. Undeterred by the difficulties of this mission, Mendez is one cool and calm operative. When some of the embassy staff get nervous, he looks them in the eye and consoles them, saying, “I’m good at this and I’ve never left anyone behind.” Still, these are diplomats and teachers who have to play a sophisticated role to convince the Iranian goon-squad that they are who they say they are. It’s like they are thrust onto a live stage without a net.
Thanks to production designer Sharon Seymour’s precise recreation of the 80s era style and attitude, the viewer is transported back in time when cars were not controlled by computers and the freewheeling 60s and 70s still ruled people’s individual fashion decisions.. Ah yes, that is the magic of a well orchestrated movie like “Argo.”
Again, Ben Affleck proved that his Oscar early in his career was not a fluke. Affleck should get nominated in the director category for this wildly entertaining movie. As the faux filmmakers make their way through the Iranian maze of officials, the tension rises when news of their identity reaches the crazed jihadists, and they race to the airport to stop the plane.
Argo Movie Review
by Rick Grant