Set in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, this CIA socio-political drama represents a time of foreign oil dependency, political unrest, and social upheaval. It is a true story, revealing man’s best nature in a time when the primary economic pursuits were oil, money, and power. Ben Affleck transformed his career into a solid directing career resulting in 7 nominations for the 85th Academy Awards – winning Oscars for Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Argo is his best work so far, depicting classified CIA events from nearly forty years ago.
en Affleck, who plays a leading role in the movie and is its director, mines the true story of the rescue of six Americans in Iran, who escaped during the fall of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and were forced to remain and hide within the country. With no promising means out of the situation, besides capture and certain death, the group must rely on a government agent with a plan so ridiculous it just might work.
Based on information that was declassified in 1997, Chris Terrio’s screenplay also relies on Tony Mendez’s book of his real-life experiences at the center of this event. Witty dialogue is peppered with comic relief—including a cheeky jab at film directors—and has riveting thriller suspense thanks to Affleck’s direction.
In addition to directing this harrowing film, Affleck plays the lead role of the CIA agent, Tony Mendez, with deep emotional clarity and strong character development.
Providing just enough background information through voiceover narration at the beginning, the story unfolds with a documentary vibe and continues in that vein with news broadcasts scattered throughout the film. The revolution in Iran is back-dropped against the political upheaval caused by America’s decision to grant asylum to the cancer-ridden, tyrannical shah.
During this era of change from a monarchy to an Islamic republic with its subsequent protests, the Iranian oil sector was severely disrupted, with halted exports and derailed production. Later when the oil flowed again, inconsistent supply and a lower volume of oil exports pushed the prices up. Panic resulted, spurring the second oil crisis in the U.S. The revolution, partly captured in this film, and consistent border disputes motivated the Iran-Iraq war that began in September of 1980, creating even more of a shortage.
Within this economic upheaval and with the lives of fellow Americans at stake, CIA agent Mendez is inspired by his son’s enjoyment of space movies and a coincidental viewing of the Battle for the Planet of the Apes. He conjures up a plan to capitalize on the worldwide fascination with Hollywood and movie mania. He uses this as a distraction to rescue six Americans hiding out in the unstable climate of Iran.
Faced with only bad options and fearing for his life and for the lives of those he is trying to help, Mendez must fool the American press and all of Iran by posing as film director Kevin Harkens. In a country filled with paranoia and unwavering revolutionaries, this is no short order. Argo expresses the enormity of the task, from setting the scene for the plot to portraying the involvement of the many key players necessary to carry out the plan.
Assisted by legendary makeup artist John Chambers, played by John Goodman, and film producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, the CIA agent takes on the challenge of convincing Hollywood that the next greatest movie is about to come to life. Mendez, the country’s best extraction specialist, oversees an absurd and ludicrous plan of using a fake movie, based around a war in space with creatures from another planet, to get the Americans home safely.
In an already dangerous situation of death squads, score settling, and constant chaos, Mendez willingly enters the country waging a civilian war against his own in a ruse to scout for locations for this otherworldly galactic movie. His real aim is to gather the Americans as his haphazard Canadian film crew. The enraged, mostly Shiite population is an unpredictable catalyst for drama at every turn.
The careful selection of seasoned actors for supporting roles, including Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Bryan Cranston, and Victor Garber, help bring the real people and their lives to the forefront of the issue with honed character studies and remarkable similarities in appearance.
The thick beard and shaggy mane Affleck sports in this film are ideal complements to the seamless ‘70s- and ‘80s-era set designs. With shadowed, diffused lighting, the film takes on an aged look and satisfies the authenticity of the setting. While Affleck’s acclaimed good looks are only mildly subdued by the decade’s trends, the glasses, attire, vehicles and building facades all speak genuinely to the turn of the decade.
Affleck portrays his humble character with an uncanny and natural ability to appear completely calm on the exterior while in the middle of constant interrogation and chaos. He is able to embody the deep thought of his character as an out-of-box thinker, wearing true fear and tension on his face. Affleck is able to project the desperation of the situation and the hopeful but unsure emotions behind the mission.
Poignant looks and musical foreshadowing at tense moments are coupled with long silences and cliffhanger tension to evoke strong emotions and hold the audience captive.
Although Affleck’s name first became known in the ‘90s through leading roles in Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Armageddon, and later in Pearl Harbor, Changing Lanes, and The Sum of All Fears, he is proving himself to be a skilled film director. He successfully matches entertainment value with the relevance of a true story that needs to be told.
Argo won the Golden Globe Award and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for both Best Director and Best Film (drama). It won three Academy Awards honoring the best movies of 2012, including Best Picture, at the Eighty-fifth Award Ceremony in Los Angeles.
CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Ben Afleck, was decorated for the rescuing of six American diplomats from Iran in November 1979. Posing as a Canadian film crew, they executed, what is now known as “The Great Canadian Caper.”
Tony Mendez received CIA’s Intelligence Star Award. An award given for a “voluntary act or acts of courage performed under hazardous conditions or for outstanding achievements or services rendered with distinction under conditions of grave risk.” This is the second highest award for valor in the CIA, after the Distinguished Intelligence Cross.
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