Written by Chris Terrio
Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin
Tony Mendez: Can you teach someone how to direct in a day?
Lester Siegel: You can teach the Reese’s monkey how to direct in a day.
There was nothing simple or smooth about the mission to get six Americans out of Tehran during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. That said, under the direction of multi-hyphenate, actor-writer-director, Ben Affleck, ARGO, the film based on this harrowing escape, is as smooth as they come. Affleck introduced himself as a director with the kidnapping drama, GONE BABY GONE. The people were cautious but pleasantly surprised. He then established himself as a serious player with THE TOWN, suddenly finding himself an awards contender again. And now, with ARGO, he cements himself as an important American filmmaker with something of worth to say and an incredibly entertaining way to say it.
ARGO also marks the first time Affleck gets out Boston as a filmmaker, his first two films having been set in the state of Massachusetts, where he grew up. In fact, Affleck travels pretty far to avoid getting pigeonholed as that Boston guy, as he goes back and forth between Tehran and Hollywood, California, here. Ordinarily, one wouldn’t think to naturally put these two settings together but in 1979, they were intrinsically linked to the fate of six American embassy workers. When the embassy was taken over by Islamist extremists, protesting America’s unwelcome involvement in Iran’s politics, six employees managed to get out undetected and hid at the Canadian ambassador’s personal home for what would become 79 days. Fortunately for them, the C.I.A. was working on a plan to get them home the entire time. Unfortunately for them, that plan involved posing as a film crew scouting locations for an exotic, science-fiction movie to get through airport security. At the time, this was the best plan they could come up with.
Thanks to a sharply written screenplay by first time feature writer, Chris Terrio, ARGO is a rich and layered work that operates on many levels - from satire to thriller to think piece. And as varied as the settings and tone are from scene to scene, from the often hilarious Hollywood insider track to the very real and very tense hostage situation at hand, Affleck exudes nothing but confidence and control over the vast entirety of the project. Not once, does he lose focus or pull it for the purposes of highlighting his own solid performance. Perhaps, his biggest achievement though, is telling a story where we know the whole time exactly how it will end, without sacrificing one trace of the suspense and heart-stopping fear that everyone involved must have been feeling while they were trying to pull it off. And with that, Affleck pulls off his tricky feat as well.