Ben Affleck as director does a sterling job, nicely replicating the look and feel of a film made in the early 1980’s, right down to the use of the old Warner Brothers logo. The largely unknown cast turn in layered performances, creating believable characters with whom we get emotionally invested in.
Affleck is much better behind the camera than in front of it, although his un-showy turn in Argo is one of his best. With Argo, he tells a compelling story that’s full of tension and some dark humour.
This is one of those stories where truth is stranger than fiction. The film dramatises how the CIA created a cover story for the escapees where they would be film scouts for a science fiction movie called ‘Argo’. The film spends much of its first half following Mendez, who has to work on creating the pretense that the movie is real, including developing publicity material to add credibility to the cover story.
As I was watching the movie, I realised that certain sequences were likely added for dramatic effect, such as the police cars screeching onto the runway to try to prevent the plane from taking off and rescuing the hostages. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that events in the movie are ‘based’ on true events, rather than being a movie that depicts true events.
The movie gives almost all the credit to the CIA and not to the Canadians, who as Jimmy Carter acknowledges provided 90% of the contribution to ideas and consummation of the plan. I doesn’t really bother me that the film is not 100% historically accurate, but I believe that the last ten minutes of the film, which are horribly jingoistic to a non-American audience, are in part why it was such a huge success with American film critics.
The other problem that I had with the film was that it focused almost exclusively on the rescue of the six diplomats that escaped the embassy. There were fifty two other people who were captured and held for 444 days in appalling conditions.
In conclusion then, I enjoyed the film and it prompted me to learn more about the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran. I think that Argo is a very good film, rather than a great one and I believe that it’s critical success in the States is in part down to it’s false depiction of an historical event in which the Americans role in rescuing the hostages is blown out of all proportion.
Ben Affleck should be lauded for his cinematography, which duplicates the look of late 70s film. I also liked the use of archival news footage, which was well integrated into the narrative, as it provided a sense of authenticity. However, I did not like the revisionist history and I felt that the movie simplified events to a greater extent than was necessary.