Argo is one terrific movie, the best I’ve seen all year. The fact that it’s an original (and difficult to encapsulate) may make it a tough sell, but I hope good reviews and word of mouth will bring it the success it deserves. The screenplay by Chris Terrio dramatizes events of late 1979, when six Americans hid out in the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Tehran, and counterbalances it with absurdly funny—and unexpectedly relevant—goings-on in Hollywood. No one would have dared to invent such an odd combination of ingredients.
Director and star Ben Affleck brings credence to each environment he depicts: the tumultuous world of revolution-torn Iran, the political give-and-take of Washington bureaucracy, and the casually crass atmosphere of Hollywood. Affleck also plays the CIA agent who takes on the task of spiriting the Americans out of Tehran, using a bogus Hollywood movie production as his cover story. John Goodman plays real-life makeup artist John Chambers who, it turns out, was an undercover operative for the CIA; he is perfectly matched by Alan Arkin as a cynical, past-his-prime producer who helps create the subterfuge of a movie being made.
Argo plays beautifully because it never seems phony. The tension in Tehran is palpably real from the moment the film begins, with violence an ever-present threat. The six Americans aren’t noble or one-dimensional: they are all too human, and we share their well-founded fear.
In sharp contrast, the scenes involving Goodman and Arkin are ribald and laugh-out-loud funny. You couldn’t ask for two more expert actors to play these jaded movie veterans.
Circumstances lead to a nail-biting climax in which every minute counts. This is movie storytelling at its best, and if it didn’t play out quite this way in real life, it should have. The finale of Argo is exhilarating and enormously satisfying. It’s followed, under the closing credits, by revealing archival footage and information that you don’t want to miss.
Argo is proof that Hollywood can still make a crowd-pleasing movie that’s smart, funny, and relevant all at once. To which I can only add, Bravo!