Some things just lend themselves to cinematic visualization. You’re probably familiar with the expression “stranger than fiction,” a phrase describing the fantastic things that occur in real life, but are so unbelievable they seem like the stuff of fantasy. We see so many amazing things in movies, most of which is fiction. How cool is it when the unbelievable shit you see in a movie actually really happened? Ben Affleck (most recently of The Town) brilliantly depicted the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 in Argo, demonstrating that he could be the next Clint Eastwood one day – a popular actor whose directorial efforts rival his thespian pursuits.
In 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran was taken over by protestors who were outraged that the United States had granted amnesty to its recently ousted Shah. In an effort to minimize the security threat of the takeover, the diplomats began destroying classified material before it could be seized, including passport plates and personnel files. During the siege, six diplomats escaped, taking refuge at the nearby Canadian Embassy. Back at the American Embassy the dissidents would eventually begin making the hostages painstakingly reassemble the shredded documents, which included personnel files identifying the escaped diplomats. There were also neighborhood searches of private residences to ensure that no locals were harboring anyone. Obviously, any American separate and apart from the Embassy would be in grave danger, at risk for public execution as an example to the West. The escaped diplomats included four men and two women, with two married couples in that number. Getting the six out of Iran alive would prove a most daunting task, setting the stage for a nail-biting chain of events.
Back on American soil, the CIA hatches a plan to extract the diplomats, and this is where things really get fun and interesting. Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, an operative whose specialty lies in such creative recovery missions. The crisis presented a unique conundrum for the Agency, as any ruse to rescue the diplomats must be executed perfectly. Mendez gets the idea to pose as a Canadian film crew, complete with a fictional script and Hollywood producers. He plans to prep each diplomat with a cover story that they will have to memorize. As explained by Mendez’ superior, the scheme is “the best bad idea” they could come up with. Argo was the name of the movie, a sci-fi flick set against a desert landscape. The phony film crew is supposedly in Iran scouting potential film locations. Authenticity was important, so the idea was based on a real script that had been submitted to a studio. There was even a fake cast lined up! Throughout the movie I was riveted, marveling the whole time that this actually happened. Stranger than fiction, indeed.
Quite simply, Argo is a fantastic movie. It kept pace throughout, beginning with a brief history lesson to let the audience know the circumstances giving rise to the conflict. This could have been boring, but it was fascinating and insightful. The scenes in Iran were wrought with tension, and I was on the edge of my seat as if I didn’t know how the story ends. The tense atmosphere was balanced perfectly by the funny scenes involving the Agency’s formulation of the rescue mission. Shout out to the veteran Alan Arkin (recently of The Change-Up) in his amusing turn as the film’s producer, Lester Siegel. I’m also very impressed by Ben Affleck, who wonderfully conveyed the complexity of a character with the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was Mendez who had to enter Iran and physically escort the diplomats out of the country, relying on his wits and preparation to see him through. Affleck is three for three in the director’s chair, by my count. Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo prove that this burgeoning new facet of his career has yielded great results thus far. I’d go as far as to say Argo was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year – a must-see for sure. Grade: A.