Ben Affleck stars in and directs Argo, a tense, absorbing true-life espionage yarn about a CIA operative who embarks on a daring, borderline foolhardy, mission to extract six members of the American embassy in Tehran during the most heated days of the 1980 Iran hostage crisis. Facing a diplomatic stalemate and smoldering anti-American sentiment among Iran’s Islamic hardliners, the State Department finds itself with no options as it tries to orchestrate a plan to lift the American men and women who fled the embassy just as the protestors were storming the building and who are now holed up at the residence of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Affleck plays agent Tony Mendez who comes up with a scheme to cobble together a fake Hollywood production company readying to start production on a fake science-fiction movie set in the exotic Middle East. With the help of a pair of hard-nosed Hollywood old-timers, played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, Mendez manages to create a convincing enough facade. Undercover as a Hollywood producer, Mendez sneaks himself into Tehran and manages to persuade the six hideaways into posing as his film crew in Tehran on a location scout and attempting a risky exit across the city and through Tehran’s airport — a minefield of suspicious government hardliners on the lookout for the fugitive Americans — and out of Iran.
From the retro Warner Bros. logo that appears at the beginning, riddled with faux scratch marks and film grain, to the camerawork, screenplay and editing, Argo is an uncanny evocation of the best political thrillers of the 1970s. It was Affleck’s intention to recall the works of Alan J. Pakula, particularly All the President’s Men, and he succeeds brilliantly. Much to his credit, Affleck manages to fashion a Pakula-esque vibe and style without tipping over into the no-man’s-land of indulgent homage; Argo is in itself a riveting and fascinating drama, not only for its genuinely tense spy-game elements, but the very real fears, doubts, loyalties, and bonds among this tight-knit group of escapees that get tested as Mendez hatches his escape plan. The acting across the board is crackling in the grand 1970’s tradition, with Affleck effectively channeling Pacino, Redford or Hoffman, while Bryan Cranston plays Mendez’s superior with an intensity and moral certitude that would make Jack Lemmon or Jason Robards proud. Argo is among the worthiest spy thrillers to come out of Hollywood in years, and it puts to rest (at least for this reviewer) any doubts over Affleck’s chops as a smart, shrewd director of consistently topnotch fare. Not only is the movie one of the year’s best, it could also usher Affleck into the short list of directors to watch (and root for) this awards season.
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clean Duvall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane