Directing his third feature film, Ben Affleck succeeds once again with his new film, ‘Argo.’ What may be his best film yet, ‘Argo’ pushes further cinematically than both ‘The Town’ (2010) and ‘Gone Baby Gone’ (2007), all of which received due praise. Here however, Affleck reaches back through time to adapt the 1979 and 1980 Iranian hostage crisis and hits it with a punch. He may not have written the screenplay (by Chris Terrio) like his previous films, but he took what great material he had and pushed “Argo’ to its greatest potential.
When natives revolt and seize the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, six American diplomats escape and seek refuge at the Canadian Embassy. While other Americans are taken hostage, these six evade to the foreign embassy whose government teams with the CIA in an elaborate hoax to bring these diplomats home. Pretending to be part of a sci-fi film crew producing the never-to-be-made screenplay ‘Argo,’ CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) makes his move to lead the group in this covert operation, training the six in their new identities while in Tehran and praying to make it through Iranian airport security.
As this unit of Americans attempts to make it back to home base, the audience plays with this constant pit of doubt, always wondering if their true identities will be recognized, putting them at risk for public execution, or if other lives will be lost or who is most likely not to make it out or whether the timing of their escape will play out correctly. These many questions closely attach us to this story and each of its pivotal real life characters. Whether the story is known or not, when seeing it played out in front of you, the suspense is still very real. You may even sense that fear of someone in refuge, gambling with life.
Affleck works a bit of magic with ‘Argo.’ The cinematography is organic with a pacing that reflects the tension of the film’s context. Not to mention the team of actors brought together works so well, like the right and rough Alan Arkin and John Goodman playing the movie brains of the operation who set up the logistics of this Hollywood lie. The costuming is great as well, grasping the era appropriately.
Some details that deserve to be commended come with the credits where photos of the condition of Iran during the crisis are compared to shots from the film, and they are quite accurate and vivid. A man hanging above a busy street was included in ‘Argo,’ as well as Iranians jumping the U.S. Embassy fence and women holding weapons. Also, those scenes where we see Iranian children trying to put photos together of Americans that were shredded right before seizure. This gives weight to the conflict, the contrast between nations, and the severity of Iranian distrust of the United States at the time.
One criticism of ‘Argo’ might be some lack of clarity over the characters. Many were involved in this crisis, for and against, especially the numerous officials connected to the CIA. There could arise some confusion of who holds what responsibility or who works in what facet, but the primary circle, mainly those directly connected to Tony Mendez are well maintained.
The film brings a scary dose of life from over thirty years ago to the present where we can examine how one problem was solved, but issues in the Middle East are far from over today. This film has a sense of persistence though, where one man’s plan turns into a very true and serious effort. Affleck matches the historically strong endeavor to his own work and gives every bit of justice to the story in ‘Argo’ as he can. Some guys have it, and others don’t. Affleck surely has the former.