‘Argo’ delivers intimate, accurate retelling of events

Jake Alden

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Ben Affleck’s Argo might be one of the most historically accurate films I’ve ever seen. It’s also an exceptionally delicious cake — metaphorically speaking, that is.
Like any self-respecting cake, Argo is deeply layered, with a new angle added to the film’s story on a regular basis for the first half hour or so. From the start, and at its core, this film is a historical look at the events surrounding the  Iranian Revolution  and the ‘Canadian Caper‘ with an incredible eye for detail and a profound and refreshing lack of bias.
Costuming, haircuts and dialogue scream late 70’s or early 80’s in the best way possible. The movie interweaves its central narrative about a real-life hostage situation in Tehran, Iran with actual and imitated news footage of both the United States and Iran during the 1979 revolution, giving the viewers a crash course on the global politics and tensions surrounding the film’s story. This both transports the audience into the movie’s setting and helps lend it a sense of authenticity—as does the casting. Any viewer who sat in for the credits can attest to the amazing degree to which the actors resemble the real men and women they portray.
Stacked on top of this educational and meticulously replicated look at history is a layer of realistic spy thriller and CIA work. Be forewarned, though — realism really is the heart and soul of Argo, and its spies aren’t the glamorized and romantic Bourne or Bond. They’re agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, The Town) and his supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston, Drive), and their lives and missions are much more down-to-earth and relatively mundane. This doesn’t make them or the film any less exciting, however. Mendez’s mission is to rescue six men and women who escaped an Iranian raid on the U.S. embassy and are in hiding in Tehran. With revolutionaries executing Americans left and right throughout the city, Mendez and the CIA have to create a cover to smuggle the hostages into an airport and out of the city.
They settle on giving the hostages fake identities as a Canadian film crew, and this is where the movie gains yet another layer; a nostalgic but irreverent look at the Hollywood of the late 20th century and the cheeseball films it produced. This somewhat satirical look at classic cinema aids in giving the film its darkly humorous edge, along with real-life Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski) and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine). The Hollywood characters involvement in the cover story and the slightly exaggerated jibes at old-school science fiction films help to lighten Argo’s mood without diluting its sense of purpose or its thrilling climax. All told, the three layers mesh together perfectly.
The acting in the film is fantastic; although there are no real breakout roles for any of the actors, Affleck, Arkin, Cranston and Goodman stand up to their well-deserved reputations and deliver intimate, believable performances. The dialogue, much like the rest of the film, has a refreshingly everyday, real-life feel to it that helps to draw the audience deeper into this very accurate retelling of a true story. There aren’t too many zippy, super-spy one-liners, but there are occasional bouts of well-written banter that provide some chuckle-worthy moments.
Argo may not be a film for everyone; it’s not a thrill-a-minute kind of movie, and it probably won’t blow you away with style. However, its characters and its story resound with truth and minimalist realism. It’s a visually, thematically, and emotionally arresting film that will engage virtually all its audience members for the entirety of its two-hour plus runtime.
By Jake Alden