A mob is terrifying: throngs of people massing together to chant, brandish firearms and burn effigies, promising violence at every turn. In 1979 Iran, these mobs are becoming a daily occurrence outside the U.S. embassy. Though the danger is palpable, the workers have their orders and try to ignore the daily threats.
One day the threats turn to action. A wave of furious Iranians storms the embassy, taking 52 people hostage. Six workers in the only building that has direct access to the street manage to flee. They are turned away from several embassies before finding asylum in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber: Moving Day).
Ten weeks later, the group is still at the ambassador’s house and in danger, though better off than their coworkers. It’s only a matter of time before the Iranian police discover that six embassy workers — now called the houseguests — are missing. When they do, they’ll go house to house, find them and kill them in the street.
The CIA has to get the houseguests out, but how? Give them bikes and a map to Turkey? Give them Canadian teaching visas and hope the Iranian guards don’t stop them at the airport?
Exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck: The Town) comes up with a terrible idea. He proposes they set up a fake film studio and pretend to be a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi adventure in Iran. Mendez will fly into the country, teach the houseguests their covers and how to hold up against basic interrogation techniques. Eventually, they’ll fly out together as a crew.
The government deems the plan dangerous, likely to fail and the only option for rescue.
With tentative approval, Mendez jets off to Hollywood to build decent covers for the houseguests. Seeking help from legendary makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman: ParaNorman) and over-the-hill director Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin: The Muppets), Mendez starts production on Argo, a sci-fi movie that will never be made but might save lives.
Will Mendez succeed in teaching six civilians cover identities? Can they fool the Iranian guards? Will anyone ever believe this really happened?
Based on a true story declassified in 1997, Argo is proof that Ben Affleck is one of the most promising directors of the new millennium. Dramatic, funny and unbearably tense, Argo is a fascinating look at a heroic rescue erased from history by our government. It’s also the first clear frontrunner for awards season.
Though the film is a true ensemble, both Goodman and Arkin steal the show with their Hollywood-cool performances. Arkin especially, seems to enjoy his role as a self-absorbed has-been whose greatest accomplishment will be a government secret.
The film has the unenviable task of melding three vastly divergent worlds: The CIA, Revolutionary Iran and Hollywood. While Affleck effectively captures the frantic workings of the CIA and the flashy dramatics of Hollywood, he shines when capturing the mood of revolutionary Iran.
Affleck doesn’t shy away from outlining America’s role in creating the situation that endangered 58 of its Foreign Service workers. The opening of the film describes the brutal government of the shah and U.S. support of his regime. While Affleck finds fault with our foreign policies, he never condones the violence of the Iranians, making their violent reaction to the Americans both horrifying and unjustified.
The best sequence in the film is the sacking of the Embassy, which uses both actual footage and grainy hand-held shooting to put you in the moment. You watch helplessly with the other workers as waves of Iranians vault the gates and burst, screaming for blood, into the building.
Argo is the type of film that demands a reaction from its audience. In my screening, during an especially tense moment, the stranger next to me grabbed my hand and squeezed. I was more than happy to squeeze back.