★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5 buckets | DVD
Rated: R Language and some violent images
Release Date: October 12, 2012
Runtime: 2 hours 0 minutesDirector: Ben Affleck
Writers: Chris Terrio, based on an article by Joshuah Bearman
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver
SYNOPSIS: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA 'exfiltration' specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
REVIEW: Director Ben Affleck, director of The Town and Gone Baby Gone, helms and stars in a factual fiction of the 1980 Iran hostage crisis and a secret CIA-run declassified exfiltration using a fake movie production as cover. Santa Fe Film Festival Luminaria Award winner for Best Short Book of Kings Chris Terrio writes a script based on an article "Escape from Tehran" written by Joshuah Bearman.
In 1980, the Ayatollah Khomeini was failing in health and was given refuse in the United States. As a result, angry protesters started to gather at the United States embassy in Tehran. As the protectors grew in size and fervor, they actually invaded the sovereign soil of the United States and took all of the foreign affairs officers and staff hostage. As the invasion was happening, six of the foreign affairs staff, Bob Anders (Tate Donovan, Wild About Harry), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall, American Horror Story) Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy, Killing Them Softly), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochane, A Scanner Darkly), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham, Shutter Island), and Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishe, Red State) escaped from the embassy and to the residence of the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber, You Again). The CiA and Department of Defense, finding out about the escaped staffers, try to come up with a plan to extract them before the Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen find them and execute them as spies. The CIAs Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston, Red Tails) and expert ex/fil professional Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, The Town) take a meting with the Department of Defense to consult on the plans that the DoD had come up with - supply the staffers bicycles and have them ride over 300 miles to the Turkish border. Unwilling to go along with such a ludicris idea, Tony comes up with a almost more far-fetched idea to create a cover that the six staffers are part of a film scouting crew looking at locations in Tehran. Tony must enlist the help of make-up effects professional John Chambers (John Goodman, Trouble With The Curve) and director Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, The Change-up) to start a production company, option a script, and make the world believe that the film known as Argo would soon be in production. Once all of the mechanics are in place, Tony still has to travel to Tehran, brief each staffer on their cover ID, and try to get them out of the country before the ruse is found out.
Ben Affleck continues to prove that he has the right stuff as a director with this follow-up to The Town. Way back in the day, when he and Matt Damon came up with, wrote, and won the Academy Award for Good Will Hunting, many saw that achievement as a fluke, farce, or outright lie. Now, when several well-received films as an actor and, now, as a director, Affleck cannot be dismissed as a just a lucky man. Forget Gigli... Affleck's body of work has grown in all of the right ways. Argo starts off with actual storyboards that outline the rise of the Iranian state from its Persian roots. Then we get a brief summary of the political state of the nation up to the morning that the irate citizens climb the fences of the United States embassy perimeter and take over 100 US citizens hostage, demanding the return of their former leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, for judgement and execution. As the outrage of the protesters grow, the intensity of the film heightens. The sounds, the camera work, the pacing, all suit an atmosphere that breeds uncertainty, worry, and need for self-preservation. Affleck directs the opening sequence with a visual aesthetic close to what the raw footage depicted in 1980 in Tehran. As the crowds grow more restless, the audience can feel that tension, as if on site at the embassy on that day. Throughout the film, the direction, pace, and suspense are certain... even if the fates of the escapees are not.
As an actor, Affleck is center stage, but he is not. He is surrounded by a stellar cast that includes the always versatile Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler (Super 8) as Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan, Titus Welliver (Man on a Ledge) as one of the other Embassy employees, the actors and actresses who play the escaped staffers to a physical and emotional tee, and a cast of dozens more who make the film so gripping.
Affleck makes Argo feel like 1980, from the period correct Warner Bros. logo fly-in to a slight washed out grainy visual feel of the cinematography. The backgrounds, cars, feathered hair styles, big mustaches and glasses, actual newscasts - all make make for a perfect set for an imperfect and impossible situation. I am sure that the fact to fiction ratio will not be please everyone, but the production designers, story writers, and set designers should be consideration come Oscar time.
Argo starts off with a bang, and really does not slow down. Sure, there are scenes where there is little action, but the political closed-room discussions between the CIA and Department of Defense add as much tension to the tale as the Iranians storming the United States Embassy. And for much tension as the story conveys, there is also light and humorous moments. With John Goodman and Alan Arkin on board trying to make a fake movie on Affleck's behalf, the sheer audacity of the concept is fodder for a few laughs (while still being dramatic).
Argo tells the tale of a science fiction adventure with heroes, villains, and innocents in jeopardy. Although a script in turnaround, it mirrors on paper the real world international crisis that swept the world's attention in 1980 and 1981. Those who remembered the events know how the crisis ends, for others who were too young and growing up it is a reminder of the political and international turmoil that continues to haunt us to this day.
Chuck Ingersoll is the writing force behind Hot Butter Reviews. For more of his work, click here.