Set during the Iran Hostage Crisis from November 1979 to January 1981, Argo follows Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, also the film’s director) as the CIA agent tasked with planning the retrieval of six American diplomats taking refuge in the home of Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), the Canadian Ambassador to Iran. Using the “best bad idea” they have, the CIA send Mendez with forged Canadian passports and cover stories for the six, sneaking them out of Iran under the guise of a production crew scouting locations for the science fiction epic Argo.
We are talking about an adaptation here; it’s best to go in expecting liberties to be taken. There is a lot removed from the story, such as Dennis Packer, the CBC cameraman who accompanied Mendez to Tehran. Members of the Canadian audience who remember the rescue might find that Argo takes away from the impact of our own Government’s involvement. While this is an American story, there is respect paid to the role Ken Taylor played in a brief, important moment between Garber and Affleck. It is subtle, but hopefully will be enough to prevent any Canadians from feeling disenfranchised with the version of the events being presented here. It isn’t meant to take away from the efforts of the Canadians, but to tell the story that America couldn’t until Clinton declassified the documents in the late 1990s – and it speaks positively, though not explicitly, to the strength of the partnership shared between these two countries.
For the TIFF 2012 review, I wrote that I didn’t think Argo was essential TIFF viewing. That was only because of the hundreds of other films at the festival that were only going to be screening for those ten days in this city (and would only come out on home video at some undisclosed time in the future.) But this doesn’t mean Argo is inessential. In fact Argo is far from it.
The film is excellently paced, especially when using news footage in the background of the breezier Stateside scenes when transitioning to the tense reality of Iran. The cast is top notch with competitive scene stealing chemistry between John Goodman as John Chambers and Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, providing comedic relief and a mix of industry cynicism to Affleck’s subtly understated presence. Bryan Cranston, as Affleck’s superior, is given a chance to remind mainstream audiences of his abilities beyond the (brilliant) terrifyingly dark role he has be tied to for the last five years on the small screen.
Is Argo Opening Weekend Worthy?
Sure, why the hell not? Argo is an intelligent, tense, and surprisingly funny film. It combines the foreboding unknown feeling of an uncontrollable situation found in films like Dirty Pretty Things or In This World with the fun heist of one of the Oceans films, and somehow doesn’t suck! That last thing is an achievement in and of itself.
More About Argo
Argo Production Gallery