Argo: Directed by Ben Affleck. With Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman. Acting under the cover of a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film, a CIA agent launches a dangerous operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1979.
On Nov. 4, 1979, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, taking 66 American hostages. Amid the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge with the Canadian ambassador. Knowing that it’s just a matter of time before the refugees are found and likely executed, the U.S.
A few years ago I read Robert Fisk’s epic book, The Great War for Civilisation, which explored the foreign policy of both the UK and the US in the Middle East in the 20th century. It was an eye-opening read and did not mince its words with criticism of some of the West’s actions in how they conducted themselves in a variety of countries. One book alone can’t attest to the history of the Middle East and I am no expert on what is a complex and fragile part of the world. In 2012 actor, Ben Affleck, directed, produced and starred in Argo which conveyed just one small chapter in the epic story of the Middle East.
Based on multiple sources, Argo is set in Iran and explores the outbreak of the Iran Hostage Crisis (1979 – 1981). On 4 November 1979, the US Embassy in Tehran is stormed by Iranian protesters, angry at US President Jimmy Carter for offering asylum to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran who was overthrown and fled the country earlier in the year, to help treat his cancer. The majority of diplomats in the US Embassy are taken hostage but six individuals manage to escape and find safety in the Canadian Embassy. When word reaches the US Government, frantic discussions take place about how to safely rescue the six diplomats, while negotiating the release of the hostages at the US Embassy. Various plans are put forward but it is Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA operative and expert in extrication, that comes up with an ambitious and seemingly crazy plan. He proposes going into Iran and contacting the six diplomats under the pretence that they are all working on a science fiction movie and have come to Iran to explore and scout potential locations. Will Mendez’s plan work or will the Iranians uncover the plot?
I recall a lot of Oscar buzz for Argo when it was first released and it would ultimately land a trio of awards, including Best Picture. As with all films based on true stories, if you have prior knowledge of this period of history you’ll know how it ultimately ends. What I really enjoyed was the extent the US had to go to in order to fabricate their story of making a science fiction movie in Iran. Believe me, it’s a lot more than just showing up and saying “Hey man, I’m making a movie.” As actor and director, Affleck does a great job here with the narrative. There are multiple moments that are extremely tense and you get a real sense of just how delicate the operation is from start to finish. One tiny error and the whole thing comes crashing down. A great supporting cast including Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and the always wonderful John Goodman provide excellent back-up to Affleck but he is the real star here and deserves the plaudits. Those hoping for an action movie might not enjoy Argo. This is all about stealth and espionage, trying to rescue your own people in a hostile environment where one mistake could ultimately prove fatal.
Verdict: Ben Affleck flexes his directorial muscles in a tense and eventful historical thriller, full of tension.