The opening of Argo is a beautiful microcosm of the film itself. It’s a tightly narrated, imaginative sequence of graphic novel like retelling of the history of Iran. And if there is any part in the film that is not pro-America, it is this. That’s something. But that part really doesn’t matter in a film that doesn’t want to make any overt political statements. It’s honest in its intention of telling only a story and that it does exquisitely.
The film tells the story of six Americans who managed to escape the storming of the American Embassy in the fag end of 1979. They are provided a shelter by the Canadian Ambassador and as a hopeless last resort, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) of the CIA goes to Teheran with a cover of a sci-fi film crew doing location scouts. Argo operates well within its “Based on a true story” conceit. It invents drama where necessary and plays it cool where it works best. It pulls you in right from that opening sequence, that harks back to the Tale of the Three Brothers short in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. Only here it isn’t really animation but the staging is much the same.
The film’s high points belong to the Hollywood portions when they build up their sci-fi movie cover. John Goodman and Alan Arkin steal the show with some of the best lines mouthed on screen this year. They are the only two characters who go about the whole business in a very matter of fact way, unlike the government and spy agency people who are forever tensed, stressed and overworked thanks to the position they find themselves in. Together the two actors, and more so their characters establish the show-must-go-on mission statement that their profession of choice holds. The apotheosis of this second act is a set of elegiac moments that swap between an organized script reading session colored with the madcap hues of Hollywood and the Komiteh announcing demands in Iran.
The true events had none of the drama the third act here brings to the table. But putting people and tension on screen demands a little bit of that magnetism. And Ben Affleck does it masterfully from start to finish. Right from the dialogs to the casting to the performances and the direction, this film is an ace. Get those tuxedos and acceptance speeches ready.