From the history lessons I have endured throughout my high school career, I knew about the events in Argo, memorizing what year the Iranian Revolution took place, where it happened and why it happened. But like most kids learning these sorts of things in the classroom, I never truly understood the reality of it all. Thankfully, Argo gives us the best of all movie combinations: a smart script, expert direction, thrilling performances and realistic visual images that help us understand what happened in Iran in 1979.
The film opens with an introduction to bring people up to speed on the Iranian revolution. To sum it up, angry revolutionaries take over the U.S Embassy in Tehran, Iran, after the U.S. gives its support to Shah Pahlavi. As the embassy is taken over, six hostages sneak away and seek refuge at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. After several brainstorming sessions fail to find a suitable way to retrieve the six hostages, the CIA calls in specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to figure out his own way to "exfiltrate" the hostages.
Mendez, after watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes with his son, hatches the seemingly harebrained scheme of disguising the six hostages as Canadian location scouts searching for an exotic locale for a fake science fiction film called Argo.
In order to make his facade look as realistic as possible, Mendez brings in two contacts from Hollywood: make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). These two make sure that the production is as believable as possible, staging a read-through of the script and sending out press releases to different magazines across the country.
Argo tells its story at a slow pace, but stellar performances by its actors and unique visual tactics from director Ben Affleck make the film worthwhile. Add to that a well-thought-out and realistic script that fleshes out each character very well, from Arkin's Lester Siegel to Clea Duvall’s Cora Lijek, one of the hostages.
Although there was not a single bad performance of the group, Arkin stole the show, talking at a fast pace with an acidic tongue and snappy dialogue in every conversation.
Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishe, Christopher Denham and Rory Cochrane play the hostage characters with chillingly real fear, where audiences could feel the tension as the hostages were shoved into the Canadian ambassador's crawlspace whenever there was a simple knock at the door. Any moment the door could've been broken down and all the hostages arrested and killed, and the sheer panic could be seen in every single one of the actors' eyes and felt in every single goose bump in the theater.
The only real issue I had with the acting was Affleck's portrayal of Tony Mendez, which bordered on unrealistic and disconnected. The bonding scenes with his son and separated wife seemed forced, and Affleck's emotional connection to anything other than his mission seemed nonexistent. Not to mention that in the real course of events, Tony Mendez was Hispanic—a detail apparently glossed over when Affleck cast himself as the lead role.
The tension throughout the movie is enough to stimulate an audience's adrenal glands. Even if people in the theater knew how everything was going to end, they sure didn't act like it, as entire rows of people would sigh with relief when the hostages successfully snuck through one of the phases of the escape plan.
With witty dialogue, a realistic interpretation of historic events, beautiful direction and captivating performances, Argo proves that it really does mean business for this year's Academy Awards nominations. A fantastic film on every level, Argo provides audiences a smooth, yet tension-filled thrill without relying on the clichés of either the political or thriller genres. Argo could single-handedly bring American audiences back to being entertained by smart, thrilling and thoroughly well done action thrillers rather than the standard robot-on-alien-on-superhero-on-Shia-LaBeouf fodder.