There’s something about mixing a thriller with “based on a true story” that shouldn’t work. The inherently thrilling aspects of most films lie in the unknown. It is for this reason that Argo is so marvelous; it’s a film that will have you on the edge of your seat throughout, regardless of whether you know the outcome or not.
Set during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, where the US embassy in Tehran was taken over and 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, Argo tells a slightly separate and thrilling story of a CIA mission to rescue the six people who escaped the embassy, and were hiding out in Tehran. Affleck takes a wonderful approach in the opening act in establishing the look of the era, thanks in large part to terrific production design and over all attention to detail. What’s more is that through a combination of grainy, archival footage and masterful recreation, the film is able to set-up the hostage situation in a thrilling manner that places you directly inside the U.S. Embassy.
Yet Argo, which is based off the 2007 Joshuah Bearman Wired article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran”, focuses on the plot to rescue these six escaped U.S. citizens, who are holed up at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador (Victor Garber). Affleck also stars in the film as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who concocts an absolutely ludicrous plan to break them out by posing as a Canadian film crew making a fake sci-fi film, Argo. Teaming up with Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), the plan is actually able to get off the ground.
Among the terrific ensemble cast in the CIA hierarchy are Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, and even veterans Philip Baker Hall and Bob Gunton, who appear in a scene together, in which they are referred to as “the two old guys from The Muppets.” Obviously, there are a lot of characters to worry about, and because of that the second act does tend to sag a bit, but it is with lines like this that screenwriter Chris Terrio and Affleck ensure the less thrilling moments doesn’t feel overly long.
Rounding out the film’s ensamble cast are the six escaped hostages, played by Scoot McNairy, Tate Donovan, Kerry Bishe, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane and Christopher Denham. Richard Kind also has a rather amusing scene as an obnoxious Hollywood script salesman whoLester Siegel must deal with. The cast is fantastic, in part because the complete the look of the film. The hair, makeup, and costumes are all extremely well done and effectively transport us to the era, with Ben Affleck’s assured direction driving it all home.
If this wasn’t already the case, Affleck has once and for all proven his calling in directing. Argo not only marks the third successful directorial outing for Affleck, but his is best. The tension the film is able to achieve during the film’s final act is nothing short of miraculous, considering that the majority of audiences will know the outcome. Perhaps because the idea of this rescue operation is so ridiculous that “true story” aspect makes the film all the more impressive, with Affleck not shying away from historical and archival references to get this across.
Argo is expertly made from the opening credits using the classic Warner Bros. logo from the 1970’s, to an edge-of-your-seat, thrilling finale that will leave you breathless. Affleck is a talent to reckon with behind the camera, steering the events in unforeseen directions that will thrill even the historical and political aficionados in the audience. While there is clearly some dramatic license taken here, the thrills in Argo feel genuine, as audiences will be able to place their trust in Affleck to deliver not only an immensely entertaining and thrilling film, but one that sets its sights outside the constraints of a mainstream Hollywood film.
Rated: R (for language and some violent images)
Argo opens in theaters on October 12, 2012.