Ben Affleck’s career resurgence gets a politically charged shot in the arm. In 1979, Iran overthrew its despotic ruler, the Shah, placing the Ayatollah Khomeini in power. In the wake of revolutionary rioting the Iranian American Embassy was stormed, The USA having granted asylum to the Shah, with some 60 hostages taken prisoner. Six embassy workers, including two married couples, made it out of the building, seeking refuge with Canadian ambassador. With the threat of being found out and shot in the street, the CIA turns to beleaguered “exfiltration” agent Tony Mendez to plan an operation without the use of deadly force to evacuate the Americans. He will have to get creative, crazily creative.
It dawns on Mendez (Ben Affleck) that using the guise of a movie crew is an insane enough idea and the only way to sneak the people out of the country, alive. He’ll need an insanely determined enough fake production team to pull it off. Enter make-up artist John Chambers, an always welcome John Goodman, to help Mendez build a proper buzz for the big-budget B-grade Sci-Fi film, Argo. Together they enlist the services of Lester Siegel, A sprited Alan Arkin, a past-his-prime Hollywood mega-producer to generate the buzz necessary for the cover. As usual time is not on their side as revolutionaries start to piece together that workers escaped and that the CIA may not even give the green-light for the out-of-left-field operation.
From start to finish Affleck keeps the pace steady and brisk, constantly adding more and more weight to the already deadly situation. He keeps the focus squarely on the human element at all times, we deeply feel for the Americans trapped behind the radical political lines. Affleck’s Mendez as well is someone to care for: his marriage on the rocks which has affected his Alcohol consumption and he has the added weight of six souls on top of his own. Though at times it seems that the director was more concerned with the framing of the shot than his performance in the lead role, as some overly mumbled-line reading would attest to. Nonetheless his portrayal does the job adequately enough.
Arkin and Goodman both add great humor to the otherwise tight and taut thriller. Both playing the glib and sarcastic Hollywood types, who feel that maybe they can do some actual good for a change. All of the actors playing the six trapped Americans convey their emotions believably in a crisis far beyond their control. Additionally, Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston also brings a lot of flare to the Role of Mendez’s CIA boss, Jack O’Donnell.
It would be impossible for an informed news-watching audience to see Argo without drawing parallels to the current world events in the middle-east at large. Though taking place in the Persian Iran, with the Libyan embassy attack on 9/11 that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and several others, the Syrian civil war and furthering Anti-American protests in the muslim world, the old adage “what is past is prolog” has seldom ever been more appropriate.
Although the today’s world spills into the drama, the style of the movie fits more to the 70’s spy-thriller, with the grainy shots, CIA spooks and highly suspenseful moments. Affleck in post-production purposefully cut the frames in half and blew the images up to %200 to give the look of 70’s grainy film stock, for added effect he also used the old-fashioned Warner-Brothers Logo before the main title. This old-fashioned style is used to great effect as it seems as though we are watching the events as they happened.
The youtube clip “Innocence of Muslims” is reported to have ignited the recent Arab uprisings around the globe, though there is likely more to the story, the power of filmmaking and art as a whole shouldn’t be marginalized. While that piece serves to show how art can divide and create rifts, here Argo shows how it can be used for the ultimate good. The joint Canadian and US operation brought the two countries closer together, working to try and save American lives in the process.
Argo is a brisk two hours and a topical look into one of the more elaborate covert undertakings. Serving as both throw-back to spy-thrillers of old, without wall-to-wall explosions and fist-fights, and a real-world reminder of history on repeat if left unchecked.
8/10 (Past and present Middle-eastern tensions fuel this taut thriller)