That’s where CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, also director and co-producer) comes in. With the go-ahead from his supervisor (Bryan Cranston), Mendez enlists the aid of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), who in turn links them with producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, who gets all of the film’s best lines).
Together, they hatch a plot to disguise the rescue efforts, to let out information that the runaways are Canadian filmmakers on a location scout for a science-fiction movie titled—you guessed it—Argo. But what is Mendez supposed to do after the team fools various nations with their fake actors and press events and gains access into Iran? They all know the militants could easily realize they’re “six short of a deck” and so the clock is ticking. Could the ruse work?
It did. Argo, the third directorial feature from Affleck (after Gone Baby Gone and The Town), is based on the true story of what became known as the Canadian Caper, just a small part of the Iran hostage crisis.
Still, even knowing the outcome, Argo is an incredibly tense picture that allows the viewer to watch as the plan is hatched, molded and executed. (Of course, liberties have been taken, but that does nothing to hinder the thrill of the story.)
Under the direction of Affleck (certainly far more qualified than a rhesus monkey) and with a sharp screenplay by Chris Terrio (adapting Mendez’s The Master of Disguise and Joshuah Bearman’s The Great Escape), the film is a fast and crafty 120 minutes, brimming with suspenseful moments. Take, for one, the bazaar scene, where the diplomats step out of hiding for the first time to play the roles that will save their lives. Take, for another, the entirety of the third act’s extensive airport sequence, which offers a barrage of near-hits that almost spoil the whole show.
While Argo serves as a tribute to Mendez and the rest of the team, it is, at its core, most about how heroic Hollywood can be. It may be one of the best films of the year, but I suspect it’s the self-congratulatory back-patting that will win it the Academy Award for Best Picture.
(A brief note on Ben Affleck’s being “snubbed” for Best Director: He was.)
Commentary with director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio: Affleck and Terrio cover every aspect that fans would want to know about, including the cast, doing the necessary research and getting the look of the era.
Rescued from Tehran: We Were There (16:51): Carter, Mendez and a number of houseguests sit down to discuss their experiences.
Argo: Absolute Authenticity (11:19) expands on the homework that the Argo team had to do to achieve the look and feel of the story, time and settings.
Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection (6:05): Here, Affleck, Mendez and others discuss the links between The CIA and La La Land.
Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option (46:33): This television documentary, which first aired in 2005, offers a look at the Canadian Caper and the surrounding events.
Also included is a DVD and UltraViolet.