In 1979, the US Embassy in Iran was taken under siege and 52 Americans were taken hostage. What most people don't know is that six other embassy workers managed to escape and hide out at the house of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor's (Victor Garber) house. While the negotiations for the 52 hostages were held on a very public and global scale, the rescue of the six Americans was a very clandestine and dangerous affair, the details of which were only declassified by President Clinton in 1997.
What follows is a tale that could be told only by Hollywood with gripping suspense, plenty of thrills and humor that makes Argo one of the best films I've seen this year. How often does the entire theater clap in appreciation at the end of the film? Ben Affleck, with his third directorial venture, has become a triple threat. No, he doesn't sing, dance and act. He now holds many hats for director, actor and writer (for which he memorably won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting with his best pal Matt Damon).
However after that it was Damon who enjoyed success from that film first while Affleck made some questionable film choices. But eventually he bounced back and in 2007, he directed his first film, Gone Baby Gone and I think he's never looked back since. He's followed it up with The Town and now Argo in which he plays Tony Mendez, a CIA expert in exfiltration who is the six "houseguests" only hope, to quote a popular Star Wars line.
When several tense and behind closed door meetings yield no results, Mendez has a sudden brainwave while on a phone call with his son watching a Planet of the Apes film. He, along with the six embassy workers, will pose as a film crew on a location scout to Iran for a sci-film. John Chambers (John Goodman), the Oscar-winning makeup artist of the actual Planet of the Apes, will aid them to make their cover story strong. The team also gains producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), whose lines had the whole theater in guffaws, to give this project more credibility.
With a production office in Los Angeles, a bound script, detailed storyboards and posters and an article in Variety, they have their back story and Mendez heads to Iran to bring them back. The long captivity has made them jittery and nervous about this bold and audacious plan to leave Iran. Mendez has to convince them otherwise and does he ever.
The last half an hour I watched with a knot in my stomach. I knew what was going to happen and yet I felt unsure and got caught up in this very well told story of their escape. The editing is tight and clever, managing to reel us in at the right places. I loved the look and feel of Argo, right down to the old opening Warner Bros. logo and fonts. The opening sequence is one of the best of the year. The cast (most of them veteran TV actors) all don't miss a beat and totally sell the period look with some truly unfortunate hair. Affleck backs them all with understated and quiet performance that even though you see the worry in his eyes, you know he's not going to back down now.
Ben Affleck has directed an impressive, lasting film that I urge you not to miss. Watch in a theater only and stay until the very end of the credits for the mini-history lesson as well. I have a feeling in the upcoming months, we will be seeing a lot of this cast and crew (including producer George Clooney) on some podiums for their exceptional work.
Directed by Ben Affleck; Written by Chris Terrio; Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto; Editing by William Goldenberg; Music by Alexandre Desplat
Additional cast: Bryan Cranston, Tate Donovan, Kyle Chandler, Rory Cochrane, Kerry Bishe, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham, Zeljko Ivanek, Scoot McNairy and Chris Messina.