Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez
Bryan Cranston as Jack O’Donnell
Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel
John Goodman as John Chambers
Clea DuVall as Cora Lijek
Tate Donovan as Bob Anders
Scoot McNairy as Joe Stafford
Kerry Bishé as Kathy Stafford
Chris Messina as Malinov
Kyle Chandler as Hamilton Jordan
Zeljko Ivanek as Adam Engell
Titus Welliver as Jon Bates
Victor Garber as Ken Taylor
Adrienne Barbeau as Nina
Rory Cochrane as Lee Schat
Sheila Vand as Sahar
Michael Parks as Jack Kirby
Philip Baker Hall as Secretary of State
Richard Kind as Max Klein
Keith Szarabajka as Adam Engell
Tom Lenk as Rodd
Barry Livingston as Bill Hickey
J.R. Cacia as Brice
Omid Abtahi as Reza
Cas Anvar as Azizi
Matt Nolan as Peter Genco
Scott Elrod as Jason Crux
Jamie McShane as Bill Daugherty
Christopher Stanley as Tom Ahern
John Boyd as Lamont
Larry Sullivan as Miller
Christopher Denham as Mark Lijek
Richard Dillane as Peter Nicholls
Randy Oglesby as Pat Horan
David Sullivan as Jon Titterton
Bill Tangradi as Al Golacinski
Lindsey Ginter as Hedley Donovan
Page Leong as Pat Taylor
James Shanklin as Mike Touzani
Directed by Ben Affleck
In 1979, Iranian revolutionaries took 50 Americans hostage. Six Americans escaped from the embassy and hid out in the home of the Canadian ambassador and almost 3 months later, a CIA agent named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan to save them by creating a fake movie named “Argo” and traveling to Iran on a location scout in order to get them out.
Having ably circumvented the sophomore slump with “The Town,” Ben Affleck ups his game with a movie that could have easily been directed by one of the Stevens, Soderbergh or Spielberg, a historical thriller of sorts based on true events that had been buried in secret for 17 years.
The story of how six Americans escaped from Iran while fifty others were held hostage from 1979 to 1980 certainly sounds like an intriguing plot for a movie and that proves to be true as it opens with an introduction to the history of Iran and how the deposed Shah was taken in by Jimmy Carter causing an uproar among the people when Khomeini took over. As things heat up, we see a revolt by the Iranian people at the U.S. embassy turn into a full-on raid, while inside, members of the government incinerate and shred all documents before eventually being taken hostage. Six of them evade their captors leaving the State Department having to come up with a plan to get them out before they’re found and killed. CIA Agent Tony Mendez has the idea of sneaking them out of the country as a Canadian film crew and to make the story work, they need to create a fake movie so they call upon make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and veteran B-movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to help put together a believable production behind a sci-fi fantasy script called “Argo.”
There’s clearly a love of ’70s science fiction and “Star Wars” at play here and a lot of credit has to be given to the art department who had the toughest job in recreating both Iran and Hollywood circa 1980. This doesn’t just involve bringing out some shiny cars or putting moustaches on most of the men either, as much as going back in time to recreate things like the Warner Bros. lot circa 1980. Some of the larger set pieces like recreating the attack on the embassy in Iran by rebels and merging it with actual news footage of the events is also an impressive achievement.
Affleck is working from a terrific script by Chris Terrio that imbues humor into what would normally be a grim subject, but that humor is really brought out by the casting of Arkin and Goodman and what they bring to the mix. Both of them are able to deliver the jokes about Hollywood in a way that scores.
Affleck himself gives a fairly even and emotionless performance, not necessarily creating a character you’re particularly rooting for. In fact, his character seems to be going through the entire movie in a daze. It’s hard not to feel that the movie is being somewhat manipulative though, whether it’s going for the easy laughs of poking fun at Hollywood or including a subplot about Tony missing his estranged son to try to make him feel more human. In what seems like his fifth or sixth movie appearance of the year, Bryan Cranston plays Tony’s boss much like you’d expect, but he does overact at times and takes his the character over the top, which is a shame since he also has some of the snappier dialogue.
Once Tony arrives in Iran, the film hits a real wall in terms of pacing, partially since we have less of Goodman, Arkin and Cranston to spice up and the actors playing the six Americans that need saving do little to make you care much about them. A bigger problem with this type of historical movie is that knowing the outcome of the mission in advance – because who would want to make a movie about a failed mission in which everyone gets killed? By the time we get to the last half hour, Affleck is doing anything he can to add tension to the mix, which just adds to the manipulative feel.
“Argo” is a very different movie for Affleck and though there’s certainly a lot to enjoy and appreciate about his third effort, there also seems to be something lacking that may not be so obvious on first viewing.
The Bottom Line:
While “Argo” never quite achieves the intensity of a “Munich,” nor does it feel like it’s trying, Ben Affleck ably ups his game as a filmmaker and it only sometimes feels like he overreached by leaving his Boston comfort zone. There’s no question that the screenplay is a real winner and the casting of Goodman and Arkin in smaller roles often steals the movie.