During the Iranian revolution of 1979, crowds stormed the U.S. Embassy and took the inhabitants hostage. Six people escaped, however, and although the Canadian Ambassador took them in, the CIA was desperate to bring them home before the Iranians realised that they had escaped. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) was the man charged with the task of bringing the six Americans home.
Just think about Ben Affleck for a moment. Remember that bland pretty boy who knocked around in bad movies in the late 1990s and early 2000s? It is almost hard to reconcile this actor with the powerful director he has become. The Town was when people really began to sit up and take notice, and Argo is sure to cement his position as a director to be reckoned with.
Argo is based on such a peculiar story that it really is a good job it is true, because otherwise it may be hard to believe. Affleck takes the audience back, not only to 1979, but to the days when films were smart, gripping and truly funny. Yes, Argo is funny. Of course the film is filled with tragedy and fear, but those moments where film producers meet politics, the clash of cultures is engaging and humorous.
As a director, it seems that Affleck has a nose for great stories and as an actor he leads his cast in remaining low key throughout the film. While this is in keeping with the setting and the story, it also allows the film as a whole to be neat and focused.
Affleck, as Tony Mendez, has the responsibility for getting the hostages out of Iran safely, as well as going to Hollywood to keep the make-believe production of ‘Argo’ – a science fiction scrip he options – on track. Affleck is fascinating on screen through his silence, and his interactions with the people around him feel genuine and real.
Alan Arkin and John Goodman perhaps have the funniest roles in the film; they play director Lester Siegel and John Chambers respectively, and they have the strange task of making this fake film a fake hit. They have some of the best one-liners in the film, and it is their interaction with one another that stops the film from becoming a dark and heavy drama.
Casting relatively unknown actors – Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishe – as the hostages allows the story to focus on their extraction rather than their incarceration, and while each is given a role to play in their escape from Iran these people may be the catalysts but they are not the focus of the story. Bryan Cranston and Kyle Chandler fill out the CIA staff and, while they do not have a whole lot to do, they manage to add to the tense and challenging tone of the film.
Affleck balances humour and drama in Argo, and tells a gripping human story in an absorbing manner. The film is subtle and simply told but the audience is fully invested in this journey from start to finish. Argo may be based on an amazing true story, but the fact that Ben Affleck has evolved from the bland star of Gigli, Surviving Christmas and Paycheck into a thoughtful, engaging and low-key director is possibly the most extraordinary story of all.