Some stories are so incredible, they can only be true. Argo is one such story.
In the year 1979, the Iranian revolution erupted in an attempt to overthrow the ruling monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty and replace him with religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for a US and UK backed coup that saw him rise to power, and for human rights violations during his years in power.
During the revolution, the American embassy in Iran was overthrown by revolutionaries, who then held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in captivity.
But unknown to them, six American diplomats escaped, and found shelter in the Canadian Ambassador’s house. They were in hiding for 79 days since rescuing them was considered too risky. This was the status quo, until a CIA exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez, came up with an incredulous plan: He would create a fake Hollywood science fiction movie, pose as its producer on location scout to the exotic Middle East, fly in solo to Tehran and fly out with the six Americans pretending to be his crew. Mendez’s movie, Argo, was fake, but his mission was real. And in the words of Ben Affleck’s new film based on this astonishing true story, “it was the best bad idea” they had.
Affleck’s third feature film as a director, Argo, presents this unbelievable hostage rescue mission on screen as a taut, well-paced suspense thriller with so much palpable tension throughout that along with you and the entire audience, even the seats, the popcorn, the soft drinks and other inanimate objects are on edge. You know the story but the drama of how it unfolds is of aiming-for-an-Oscar-nod quality, with powerful questions about morality, humanity and the wretched politics of it all intermingled with pulp Hollywood elements of ‘Oh My God! What’s going to happen next?’ ‘Kill the evil bas***ds, I say! Kill them all!’ ‘Nooo! Please don’t let the good guys be caught!’ and ‘THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER *Orgasm*’
Yes, the thing that elevates Argo from gritty art cinema that people would watch only after finding out that it’s been nominated for an Oscar is that apart from being a classy period film about one of the “highest-rated” hostage dramas in history, the movie is spectacularly entertaining too. Affleck pulls out all stops to add enough “dramatic elements,” as he referred to them in a press conference, to make the movie that gives you hope, inspiration and the feel-good aftereffect, one that also provides you with the kind of potboiler twists, turns and unexpected laugh-out-loud moments that would make James Cameron proud.
The entire cast is terrific, led by Affleck himself playing Mendez in the movie, but veteran acting legends, John Goodman and Alan Arkin steal the show with their delivery of some of the smartest lines on film this year. “You want to come into Hollywood and act like a big shot without doing anything?” rhetorically asks Goodman’s character John Chambers, who was awarded CIA’s highest civilian honour in real life, to Mendez in the movie. “You’ll fit right in!” he answers with a punchline. Arkin’s character of director Lester Siegel who takes it upon himself to not just make a fake movie, but a “fake hit” gives the movie it’s most quotable phrase, “Argo f**k yourself!”
Unarguably, the full credit of one of the movies of the year goes to director Affleck, who has transformed himself from the guy best-known for being Jennifer Lopez’ ex-boyfriend (aka the Ben-part of ‘Bennifer’), Matt Damon’s Sudama-type best friend and managing to pull off what is known as “one of the worst movies ever made”, Gigli, to possibly, the next Clint Eastwood of direction.
Affleck’s embarrassing filmography as an actor has given way to an accomplished, assured and formidable filmography as a writer-director, one that only keeps getting better with every film. Watch Affleck’s first two directorial ventures, the intelligent Gone Baby Gone and the gritty The Town to know why Affleck is one of the industry’s brightest upcoming directors, who seems to have only gotten started. And of course, do *not* miss Argo this week because it is a stunning achievement in direction, screenwriting, acting and filmmaking itself.
Some stories are so incredible, they can only be true. Ben Affleck is one such story.