As an actor, Ben Affleck has had mixed results in making quality films. As a director he has a much better track record. “Argo,” his third directorial turn after “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” is another impressive outing.
Based on true events, the film begins on Nov. 4, 1979, with the takeover of the United States embassy in Tehran by Iranian militants — an event known by those of us who lived it as “The Iranian Hostage Crisis.”
In the midst of the chaos, six American embassy employees escape and find refuge in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Back in the U.S., officials brainstorm ways to get them out. Suggestions like getting them out on bicycles or pretending they are teachers are shot down as unworkable.
Instead the government signs off on an unlikely scenario dreamed up by CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) — pretend the Americans are a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction film called “Argo.”
Pulling off such a deception requires assistance from Tinseltown, so Mendez turns to veteran makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) — who has worked with Mendez before — who in turn hooks him up with Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).
Chambers and Siegel manage to convince the press that “Argo” is the real deal and soon Mendez is flying to Iran with fake identities in tow. The people he’s come to rescue aren’t at all crazy about the plan but realize it’s all they’ve got.
“Argo” is a deft mix of comedy (provided mainly by Goodman and Arkin), thriller and drama. The tension is thick and the stakes are high, but the humor is always there to keep things from getting too serious. The acting is strong — Goodman and Arkin steal the show — and the film drops you back into the 1970s with its opening Warner Brothers logo.
The film’s one flaw comes at the end, as Affleck ramps up the suspense as far as he can before the airplane leaves the ground (He literally has Iranian soldiers chasing the plane down the tarmac). It just reeks of Hollywood rewriting history to make things as dramatic as possible. Which is exactly what he’s done.