This fall, a lot of great movies that fans have been waiting a long time for are finally being released. From the (basically) sci-fi epic, based on the book of the same name, Cloud Atlas, to the long in the works The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the amazing looking new Bond film, Skyfall, there’s a lot to look forward to this fall. Okay, except maybe Taken 2. But amidst all the great movies based on existing properties and books comes a truly great film based on nothing… except real life.
Ben Affleck’s third directorial feature, Argo, is about the Iran Hostage Crisis from 1979-1981. Focusing on the declassified story of the rescue of six Americans from the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor’s, home, Argo’s plot falls under the category of “stranger than fiction.” When Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, is tasked with safely rescuing the six Americans, he and two movie executives devise a plan to fool the Iranian government into thinking that they are filming a science fiction movie in Iran and need to scout out the location. Once in, the plan is to get the Americans out and back on a plane without getting executed. Sounds simple enough, right?
Beneath all the complicated facts and potentially confusing history surrounding the situation, Argo is a stylish thriller and a great piece of historical fiction. While a lot of the true story is changed for Hollywood purposes, including the downplaying of the Canadian government’s role and the up-playing of the CIA’s, the major beats are all intact and the message is still quite clear; this rescue mission really happened, and it was completely bad ass.
Taking place in the late 70s and early 80s, Argo succeeds in creating the look of the time and taking place in a completely recognizable universe and time period, even for those of us that never lived through it. Following in the footsteps of great films like David Fincher’s Zodiac, Argo is a great period piece that differentiates itself in terms of style to make it interesting enough on its own, even if the story wasn’t so well told.
But this being Ben Affleck’s third movie after the great Gone Baby Gone and The Town, not only is the story well told but the directing is damn near perfect. Argo isn’t your average car chase and explosion heavy film. It’s a thoughtful thriller with a weighty and relevant historical context, yet it still manages to put you on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next. With each scene you can feel the tension tighten and the stakes rise, and by the time the film is over you’ll be emotionally and physically spent. Yes, it’s a film about hostages sitting around and waiting in a house, but at the same time, sitting around and waiting in a house has never been more gripping.
With world relations being what they are now, after Canada has cut all diplomatic ties with Iran just a few weeks ago, Argo, despite having taken place over 30 years ago, is still as relevant as ever. The story may be stranger than fiction and the plot may have been tinkered with here or there, but the thrill of Argo and the reality lurking behind its narrative is as real as the fact that Ben Affleck, that guy who always mentioned Boston no matter what he was doing, is now officially one of the top directors working today.