It was the original era of large eyeglasses, every man had a moustache and everyone smoked no matter where they were. Television quality was also vastly different than it is today with a grainier and less colour-intensive quality. All of these are captured amazingly in this Ben Affleck-directed film Argo in which he stars with Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman based on a true story within the Iran hostage crisis at the turn of the 1980s.
Relations between Iran and the United States are tense as America is protecting their former king whose rulership was just overthrown, resulting in the Iranian Revolution. The American embassy in Tehran is seized and all of the diplomats are taken capture – except for the six who escaped to the house of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor (played by Victor Garber). Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) works for the CIA whose job it is to rescue the escaped diplomats before their existence is known to the Iranians. Mendez comes up with a far-fetched plan involving Hollywood in the rescue, specifically, make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), known for his work in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), who are to go through the motions of an actual Hollywood film to create a cover story for Mendez to go to Iran, get the six Americans, have them all pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi film and leave. Says Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), “This is the best bad idea we have sir, by far.”
As the story unfolds, the film literally has you on the edge of your seat as the fragility of the situation intensifies. Knowing what will happen if they are caught is enough when compared to what is at stake for the now group of seven. Capturing this sort of intensity is incredibly done by relying heavily on the look of the era. Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador, looks amazingly Canadian in this film. Which is particularly impressive when you try to think about the visual differences between Canadians and Americans, particularly in 1980.
Alan Arkin finely plays his role of the all-knowing, all-experienced Hollywood personality Lester Siegel as John Goodman delivers some of the film’s best lines as John Chambers. They aren’t included for comedic value or to make light of a bad spot but rather because their jaded personas are enlightening in an all-too-real situation. Having them play off of each other releases some of the edge put on by the film but doesn’t release any of the nervousness by the six captured who maintain the innocence of hope in amidst the turmoil.
Argo is the year’s best film and it has the benefit of actually being based on true events to help its credibility. Interspersed with actual news footage from that period as well as a lot of time dedicated to being in the moment, this film is one where every minute counts. The tense emotions of each individual character are displayed through the screen and felt. Argo is one of those movies that makes you appreciate life when it was stable and simpler. It also makes you appreciate that a really good classic movie can still exist.