Imagine that six US diplomats have taken refuge in a Canadian embassy during an Iranian Revolution in 1979. The revolutionaries haven't discovered them - yet. U.S.- Iranian relations are at a breaking point. You are a CIA rescue specialist and you have a couple of days to get them out before they are discovered.
What do you do?
Here's an idea: Pretend to be a Canadian film producer. Go into Iran and try to get the six out by posing them as a film crew scouting locations for a fictitious film called "ARGO". Then, try to sell it to your superiors by saying "This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far."
Sound too crazy to be true? Well, it really happened.
ARGO is loosely based on CIA specialist Tony Mendez' account of the incident. He's played by Ben Affleck, who also directs the film. Mendez and his supervisor (played by Bryan Cranston) are working against time to rescue the trapped Americans. Desperate times call for desperate measures so the plot to disguise the diplomats as a Canadian film crew is hatched. Canadian actor Victor Garber plays Ken Taylor, the real-life Canadian Ambassador to Iran. He's the brave man sheltering the Americans when no one else would and gives them fake Canadian identities and passports.
To make this Hollywood cover story believable, real Hollywood veterans are needed. Cut to the comic duo of Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Arkin plays Lester Siegel (a composite of several real people) who signs on to "produce" this film. Much like his Oscar-winning grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine, Arkin gets the best lines here too:
"If I'm going to make a fake movie, it's going to be a fake hit!" he declares.
His partner in the cover-up is John Chambers (John Goodman). Chambers is a real-life make up artist who became famous for his work on The Planet of the Apes films. The Arkin/Goodman duo provides comic relief in a tense, tightly-wound, serious film.
As director, Affleck knows how to turn on the tension. Simple scenes such as a slightly longer than normal pause while inspecting documents at the airport or the ringing of a telephone will make your heart race. The way he cleverly intercuts the ARGO script reading at a press event with footage of an Iranian woman speaking at a press conference on behalf of rebels in Iran is brilliant.
With ARGO, Affleck faced a simliar challenge that James Cameron did in Titanic: "How do you make the audience care when they already know how the story ends?" Not an easy task for anyone, but much like Cameron, Affleck succeeds.
This is Affleck's third turn as director of a major film. Gone Baby, Gone (2007) and The Town (2010) were his previous works. I've seen them all and feel Affleck is becoming a very talented director. While I find his acting to be very limited in range (to me, he's a slightly more talented Keanu Reeves which isn't saying much), as director, his films never fail to impress me. I believe he has the potential to be a much better director than he ever was an actor. Our generation's Clint Eastwood perhaps?
ARGO is riding a big wave of success right now. It was one of the hottest tickets at TIFF last month. The cast was honored with the Hollywood Ensemble Acting Award at the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Awards Gala last night. And it's tapped to earn several Oscar nods.
Things are looking good for Ben Affleck these days.
1. "Argo F**K yourself!"
2. John Chambers: "So you come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything?"
Tony Mendez: "Yeah".
John Chambers: "You'll fit right in!"
The film has been criticized by Canadians familiar with the story for downplaying the heroic role of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. The film gives much credit to the CIA for the idea and rescue which by most accounts is incorrect. In response, Affleck changed the final postscript of the film to give proper credit, saying it was the Canadian efforts supported by CIA that brought the diplomats home.
Who to see it with:
Anyone (except your kids). You don't have to be a political junkie to enjoy the film. And be sure to stick around for the final credits because you will see the real people who inspired the film and the important role Canada and Ken Taylor played in the story.
ARGO is rated 14A and is playing in wide release across the country.