Directed by Ben Affleck (Warner Brothers, 2012)
Films based on true events face the dual challenge of making real life captivating on the big screen and of keeping a story engaging for an audience that likely already knows the ending. Director and star Ben Affleck’s Argo successfully does both, as the film takes a few necessary liberties with historical details in order to create a movie that is suspenseful to the very end.
Argo tells of the rescue of six U.S. employees who escaped from the American embassy in Tehran before it was taken over and where hostages were held for 444 days beginning in 1979. Having taken refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador, the rescue of the six becomes urgent when the Iranians begin to piece together (literally, from shredded documents) that some Americans may be missing. Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA consultant tasked with removing the group safely from Iran, a most dangerous place for an American at that time.
Mendez plans to disguise the six as a Canadian film crew scouting an exotic location for a Star Wars knock-off. For the plan to work, Mendez must actually begin production and create media hype for a bogus movie, to be called Argo. John Goodman and Alan Arkin shine as John Chambers and Lester Siegel, Mendez’s contacts in the film industry who aid the secret operation; the two provide comic relief without detracting from the seriousness of the task at hand.
Though the film paints the CIA agents as the main heroes behind the covert mission that was declassified in 1997, the end credits note that the intellgience agency “complemented” the rescue efforts of the Canadian government.
Enhanced with real news broadcasts and radio clips—plus plenty of period-appropriate big glasses and shaggy beards—Argo will keep you rooting for the mission’s success, even if you remember or can guess how it ends.
This article appeared in the December 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 12, page 42).