Argo is one part Hollywood satire and four parts thriller, telling the story of an audacious plan to exfiltrate 6 US diplomats during the tense time of the US Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran in 1981.
After a brief backgrounder into the political history of Iran, the movie goes on to show the takeover of the US Embassy and the ensuing chaos which these 6 employees use to make an impromptu escape. Granted safe haven by the Canadian ambassador, their relief is only temporary as they must leave Iran soon. But as time passes and tensions mount, the usual avenues for escape are no longer viable.
CIA exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez comes up with a risky and totally out there plan - under the guise of location scouting for a Hollywood science fiction movie, he will get the 6 US citizens out of Iran.
The comedy and absurdness of the plan (the scenes in Hollywood are hilarious and Alan Arkin nearly steals the movie) provide a stark contrast to the seriousness of what is happening in Iran. Affleck does not depict the Iranians as mustache twirling villains. The brief political history of Iran shows that these are people with very real grievances and the potential for real conflict.
In many ways, Argo isn’t your typical 2010s thriller. Affleck has crafted a film that wouldn’t look out of place in a previous era. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an old-fashioned film. The sets, costumes, filming style, even the introduction titles are seamless for a movie out of the 70s or early 80s.
When breaking the movie to individual points, there are things you can be critical about: the characters of the 6 diplomats are not that well-developed. We aren't given much information about them that should make us care what happens to them.
Also, Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, the principal character, does an okay job with the acting but perhaps not enough to carry the entire movie. The other characters, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and Victor Garber are all fantastic.
Yet these issues don't detract much from the movie. It is clear that Affleck's directorial sensitivity shines through. I would call Argo a Gestalt movie - one where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Yes, you can nitpick about certain details but what makes Argo a fascinating piece of entertainment is that the individual issues don't matter much.
The story is propelled not by action or by complete characters. Instead, it is the tension of the situation that drives it onward. So what if we don't know where the diplomats came from? We are more concerned with whether Mendez's plan will actually work and if the diplomats can survive.
Each scene builds upon the previous one until you feel like you are one of the diplomats - frightened and worried whether this will be your last moment. There were many points in this movie and especially for the last 20 minutes where I was biting my nails feeling as though my heart was in my throat.
Ultimately, Argo is an exciting, funny, tense and a highly entertaining movie.