A hugely enjoyable espionage thriller
Direction: Ben Affleck
Actors: Ben Affleck , Allan Arkin
An actor whose career has seen steep ups (blockbusters such as Armageddon) and downs (the crass Gigli), Ben Affleck has also snagged an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (with Matt Damon) for Good Will Hunting, besides directing two Boston-set crime capers, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Working for the first time from someone else’s script, Affleck’s third feature recounts a little known episode from the Iran hostage crisis of 1979.
Towards the end of that turbulent decade, as the Iranian revolution reached its breaking point, militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran taking more than 50 Americans hostage. In the ensuing chaos, six diplomats managed to escape and take refuge at the residence of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber).
Enter a CIA ‘exfiltration’ expert (Affleck) who devises an audacious plan to get them safely out of the country. After rejecting several rescue scenarios suggesting the six staffers pose as teachers or agricultural inspectors, the head honcho of the CIA (Bryan Cranston) approves his agent’s outlandish scheme terming it, “the best bad idea we have”.
What was the plan anyway? Masquerading as a Canadian filmmaker scouting for locations for his new (non-existent) movie, the CIA operative flies into Tehran and makes contact with the rest of his six member ‘film crew’ who have been provided new Canadian identities. Together, they make a bid for freedom without arousing the suspicions of the local authorities. The ruse even involves setting up a production office in Hollywood complete with a frenetic producer (Arkin, terrific as ever) optioning the script of a Star Wars spin-off called “Argo”. Meanwhile, considerable publicity is drummed up in the media for the never-to-be space opera. The screenplay abounds in droll dialogue and provides insider insight into Hollywood even lampooning people who work in show business. Affleck’s vigorous work behind the camera is complemented by the meticulous recreations of the Washington, Hollywood and Tehran period milieus. On the downside, the storyline occasionally lapses into contrivances. Moreover, the characterization of the agent's estranged wife and their young son is perfunctory. Such quibbles aside, Argo is a hugely enjoyable espionage thriller.