Some people can probably recall what they were doing when the hostages were freed. Others will have to rely on their memories of history class or refresh their memories by scrolling through Google or Wikipedia. The ending of the story is obvious but the intrigue lies in the level of secrecy beginning from the development of the rescue up until the late 1990s when former President Bill Clinton declassified the operation.
The screenplay was written by Chris Terrio and based on a selection from “The Master of Disguise” by Antonio (Tony) J. Mendez (whom Affleck portrays) and an article from Wired Magazine by Joshuah Bearman titled “The Great Escape.”
In 1979, Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy. Hostages were taken but six Americans were able to escape and seek refuge with Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). This risky endeavor pushes its limits as word of the six missing Americans begins to seep through the walls of secrecy.
The CIA hashes out failing rescue plans, but Mendez, the CIA’s “exfiltration” specialist, is the mastermind behind the successful coup. His plan: Traveling to Tehran under the guise of Kevin Harkin, film agent. He, along with six Canadian filmmakers, is scouting out sites for “Argo,” a science fiction film. Mendez/Harkin will come to Tehran alone and come back with six.
With the help of Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (brilliantly portrayed by Alan Arkin), Mendez embarks on a mission that has his life and those of the hostages at stake, as well as national security.
It has nail-biting intensity from beginning to end. It’s almost agonizing watching the hostages and Mendez narrowly escape being exposed time and time again. However, there were times when I wanted to call Affleck’s bluff on the sequence of events.
Spoilers are impossible in “Argo,” but the way everything came together was too perfect. Affleck and producer George Clooney definitely took some creative measures in piecing the story together. But what’s a movie about a fake movie without some sort of embellishment?
For example, Goodman’s character is real but screenwriter Chris Terrio used a combination of producers he knew to create Arkin’s character. Siegel’s snark and fearless undertaking was a highlight of the movie. He was also the source of a lot of humor throughout “Argo,” which I think was used to break the tension.
However, this was a very real terror as newscasts with notable broadcast journalists such as Walter Kronkite, Ted Koppel and Diane Sawyer are peppered throughout the film. The vivid recreations of broadcasts from the Iranians juxtaposed with a script reading with characters in full costumes display the seriousness of the situation and the preposterous idea and its deadly risk.
The fervor and buzz surrounding the film is undeniable. However, I think the film’s importance far outweighs its ability to please audiences. I don’t think it is Oscar-worthy, but it is a job well done.
Supporting characters include Bryan Cranston (what movie isn’t he in these days?) as Jack O’Donnell, the CIA’s assistant deputy director, and Tate Donovan as Bob Anders, the unofficial leader among the hostages. I would definitely recommend seeing “Argo.” Affleck’s smart and creative depiction of this tale is worth watching.