Ben Affleck’s newest film (he stars and directs) is the true story of a CIA operation in the weeks following the overthrow of the Shah in Iran back in 1979. We all know about how the American embassy was overrun, and they took a bunch of hostages and held them for 444 days. And we know (or, at least, I would have if I watched the news when I was eleven) that six Americans were spirited out by the Canadians.
This movie tells the truth, which was classified for years. That wasn’t the Canadians at work. (Though they certainly helped.) That was the CIA, in the form of Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). This is worlds different from Affleck’s last portrayal of a CIA officer, back in Sum of All Fears. Mendez is the slickest, coolest operator in spy history. And I don’t mean James Bond-slick, or Jason Bourne-Cool. I mean like a real spy. He never shows anything but complete confidence, even though he says he understands the dangers involved. He never drops cover, even when crazy stuff starts happening around him. And some of this stuff is really crazy.
He comes up with a plan to fake out the Iranians by concocting a story that the six Americans are really Canadians, and he’s their leader, and they’re scouting locations for a Star Wars rip-off called Argo. So, in some of the fun parts of the movie, he has to navigate the waters of Hollywood with the help of a makeup artist (John Goodman) and a real film producer (Alan Arkin).
Once that’s up and running, and the CIA agrees to give the go ahead, things start to ramp up quickly. I don’t know how many ticking clocks start whirring in the screenplay as we work our way towards the climax, but it’s a bunch. The Iranians are suspicious of the “film crew”. Other Iranians are searching for the missing Americans. An other Iranian may be about to spill the beans. And on and on. The film doesn’t work because you’re in any doubt about the final outcome, it works because you’re mesmerized by the performances of these actors who, as the characters, don’t know it’ll all be okay. The six Americans all do good work, and, as I said, Affleck is amazing, but I think my favorite performance might be Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s boss. He’s got a third act sequence that gave me chills.
You know a thriller is well put together when you keep enjoying it even after the climax, and there were some wonderful moments all the way to the end of this movie.
People are already talking about Oscar nominations for this film. It certainly deserves them.