The thing about Argo is that we already know how it ends. In 1980, CIA operative Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) managed to “ex-filtrate” the six Americans who escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s house when Iranian revolutionaries took over the US embassy in Tehran. But I forgot all about that, and judging from the reactions of others in the audience, so did everyone else. This film immerses you in suspense.
As I noted in one of my past posts, I liked the trailer for Argo, maybe because it reminded a bit of The Town, one of my favorite heist pictures ever, also directed by Affleck. The director doesn’t disappoint, ratcheting the tension up exponentially. It could have been a bit too tense, but Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio break the mood with some very funny moments at Hollywood’s expense. The lighter, satirical scenes with John Goodman and Alan Arkin in the movie capital do more than just relieve almost unbearable stress. These scenes – actually the whole movie – are a meditation on the nature of espionage, movies, and storytelling. It begins with a brief history of Iran and the causes of the 1980 revolution. Instead of the usual text on a blank background, or a newsreel-style montage, Argo‘s introduction is a series of animated story boards. Then, of course, there are the fake identities and backstories the diplomats take on to pull off their own rescue. If they can act convincingly enough, they’ll live. At the risk of saying too much, this film shows that the key to being a good spy and the key to making a good movie are one and the same — having the ability to tell to a good story.
PS: I highly recommend reading this excellent Entertainment Weekly interview with Affleck and Mendez if you haven’t already. Among other things, I found out that the Argo story is just one chapter in the CIA agent’s fascinating life. Hoping Hollywood will call on him again.