Hollywood has a funny way of paying tribute to history. It can either craft a film around an actual event, or it can take something from history and use it as a loose basis for a film. With actor-director Ben Affleck’s Argo, we get the rare film that combines real world history with captivating drama and suspense that only the movies can provide.
Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent tasked with getting six U.S. diplomats who escaped the Iranian Hostage Crisis back to the States. When every other possible rescue operation is canned, Mendez decides to create covers for the escapees as a Canadian film crew scouting for a science fiction film, the titular Argo.
With the aid of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez begins developing his fake movie to make their backstories convincing.
Goodman and Arkin’s characters provide great comic relief, with Arkin saying “If I’m making a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit.” This section has so many comical moments that it’s hard to forget the real danger they’re facing.
When the action moves to Iran, comedy swaps for suspense as Mendez worries whether his cover will actually get the escapees back home. The film expertly handles the change in tone, emphasizing the high stakes of being recognized as an American.
Everything has stakes, and there are times where you wonder whether this plan might actually work. Given Argo’s status as a historical drama, you’d think knowing your history would negate the tension, but the film is so well-made it doesn’t matter. Argo is one of those rare films that gets everything right, with characters, story and dialog, all making a film that is as funny as it is intense.