Six Americans in the visa application section work in the only building with access to the street. They escape with the Iranian visa applicants and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, Iranian authorities none the wiser—at least until they discover six American embassy workers unaccounted for. The clock is ticking, and the CIA hatches a wild plot to extract them. They fabricate a Hollywood movie—“Argo”—with location scouting in Iran. CIA operative Tony Mendez will fly to Tehran, spend two days there to establish cover, and leave with his “film crew.” Crazy? Yes, but it has to work.
As a director, Affleck, who plays the real CIA specialist Mendez, shows an impressive maturity in compositions, especially foreground/background interaction, and in sound design, he beautifully alternates loud scenes with quiet ones, giving us time to catch our collective breath and think about the complicated escape plan. Similarly, he regularly interjects really good comic relief as a welcome release of tension—tension that builds throughout Argo.
The acting by every major and minor character propels the story. As the Hollywood connections, Alan Arkin and John Goodman deserve Oscar nominations, as does William Goldenberg’s masterful editing with numerous scenes involving cross cutting, all ratcheting up the tension. All six who play the U.S. Embassy workers deliver equally strong performances, establishing characters in brief dialogue scenes. That’s a credit to Chris Terrio’s screenplay, drawing on Mendez’s own book “The Master of Disguise” and Joshuah Bearman’s article “Escape from Tehran.”
The real Mendez was on CBS Sunday Morning on October 7, describing and testifying to the harrowing events. Certainly some poetic license has been taken to add drama, but for a tense, thrilling, historically grounded story, “Argo” is perfect. And stay during the end credits to see how closely each Embassy actor resembles the real person. “Argo” is at area cinemas.