This is a thriller of the race-against-time variety. While it is based on a true story, I do not know how accurately the story is portrayed.
Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who is sent into Iran in 1980 to free 6 US diplomats, who, their own embassy having been overrun by revolutionaries, have escaped and been given temporary asylum at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.
Before departing for Iran to carry out the rescue, Mendez must come up with a cover for himself and the six diplomats. It is decided that they are to play a scouting party looking for film locations for a sci-fi adventure film called Argo, hence the title of this film. As Mendez admits to his bosses, although his idea is a bad idea, it is still the best of a bad lot. And so, the rescue gets under way………
This film is by the numbers, employing many of the usual devices to stall the escapers and maintain the tension to keep the viewer hooked. While these devices were predictable (if you have seen enough thrillers of this type, that is) I still enjoyed the film. I have not seen many Ben Affleck films, but in those I have seen he plays quiet, serious men who rarely smile, as he does here. At the beginning of the film this worked particularly well when contrasted with the larger-than-life characters played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Some of the earlier scenes were really quite humorous.
However, as well as enjoying the humour in these scenes, I also got the strong sense that Goodman and Arkin are “old school” actors. By that I mean that they are much better actors than their younger colleague, Affleck. This did not surprise me. Acting, if you view it as a form of communication, is, like literacy/articulacy levels generally, going downhill. This was brought home to me about 10 years ago when I was watching an awards ceremony on tv.
The nominations were being read out by younger actors, maybe in their late 20s and 30s. They mumbled, they laughed a lot, and generally one could not make out much of what they were saying. Their attention was not on delivering lines to their audience, not on communicating with their audience as it ought to have been. Their attention was on themselves instead. In marked contrast, however, when actor Christopher Lee was awarded a major prize (a lifetime’s achievement award, I think) and he gave his acceptance speech, his delivery was “old school”. His diction, his voice projection, his ability to deliver his lines clearly and audibly, was superb. He held the stage. In other words, he was a better actor because he had been trained in the days before actor training had also gone downhill. For similar reasons, Affleck does not have the same on-screen presence as the older actors.
(Unfortunately, the general incoherence of presenters, especially radio presenters, is becoming standard. The voice of the presenter may go up and down in volume, for example, such that one only hears the first part of what they are saying before they drop their voice to the level of a whisper.)
As well as illustrating different standards in acting, the film did raise one of two questions. At the very beginning of the film, we see the US Embassy in Tehran surrounded by an angry mob of revolutionaries carrying banners. Inside, the diplomats are destroying as many sensitive documents and smashing as many computers and communications equipment as they can. I do not know if this really happened, but finally one of the diplomats decides, in his panic, to go outside and try to “reason” with the mob. Was one of the diplomats really so stupid as to think he could reason with an angry, hostile mob? Anyone with any sense would have known that the mob was beyond reason. And, thanks to this diplomat, it inevitably took the opportunity handed to it on a plate to invade the embassy and capture its staff. Did someone really open the door to the baying mob or is this sloppy screenwriting?
At the end of the film, much is made of the "cooperation" between Canada and the US in organising the escape. Cooperation? That is propaganda. My response to that nonsense is that if nations cooperated in the first place, then there would not have been a revolution in Iran and there would have been no need to mount a dangerous rescue mission. In short, if nations cooperated instead of competing with each other, then the world would be a peaceful place. Some of these films really do spout the most awful tripe.
That said, why did Canada shelter the US diplomats, and at considerable risk to its own diplomatic staff? Far from being “cooperative”, perhaps Canada had decided that snubbing its bigger, much more powerful North American neighbour would not have been in its best interests. In other words, Canada, for fear of repercussions, deemed it necessary to keep the US sweet by aiding its escapees.
Sentimental tripe and bad judgement on behalf of the diplomat notwithstanding, I enjoyed this film and will give it 5 stars.