Wednesday, November 14, 2012
On November 4, 1979, Iranian revolutionaries overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They took over 60 Americans hostage, held them for 444 days and garnered constant media attention during the international crisis. Director Ben Affleck’s terrific new film tells the less well-known story of six State Department employees who escape the attack and the joint effort of the CIA and Canadian government to get them safely out of Iran. Chris Terrio based his crisply paced yet textured script on Joshuah Bearman’s article “Escape from Tehran”, and he wastes little time before plunging us into the action. The six escapees take shelter in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), but their days are numbered as agents of the Ayatollah Khomeini conduct house-to-house searches for spies. Enter CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck), who obtains approval from boss Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) for a daring rescue operation (or, as O’Donnell deadpans, “the best bad idea we have”). Mendez will enter Iran posing as a film producer on a location scout for a non-existent science fiction movie called ARGO and leave with the hostages as his film crew. To create a convincing cover Mendez enlists makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who brings on crusty producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to make the enterprise look legitimate. Although Hollywood buys the ruse, now Mendez must convince Iranian officials that this is real and six terrified Americans that this will work. Adding to his impressive work in GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN, Affleck confirms he is a directorial force with which to be reckoned. He keeps his touch light and unobtrusive while maintaining near constant suspense and, just when needed, puncturing the tension with unexpected humor. Most of the film’s laughs are generated by the duo of Goodman and Arkin, who clearly relish their roles. Cranston is wonderful, and Affleck’s performance is appropriately low key and devoid of ego. The final suspense sequence goes a little overboard for my taste, but it’s easy to forgive. That’s Hollywood, after all.