An old Hollywood cliché has it that actors really want to direct.
Ben Affleck is an actor who now directs. “Argo” is his third directorial effort, and I feel it is his best.
The story is about how six employees from the U.S. embassy in Tehran escaped while it was being overrun in 1979. These six go out a back door and take refuge in the Canadian embassy.
News of the six reaches the U.S. government, and a plan to get them out is developed. The State Department’s original plan: Send in bicycles and have the six ride them out of the country.
As this plan is developed, CIA members are brought in: Director Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) and an exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). Mendez knows how to get people out of bad situations.
Mendez makes light of the bicycle plan, saying they should put training wheels on the bikes for those who can’t ride and meet the group at the border with Gatorade.
Mendez makes it clear that this plan will not work and will get the six killed.
Time is of the essence, though, and Mendez hits upon an idea: Make the six be members of a film crew that have gone to Iran scouting locations. He will go into the country, give them all fake identities and get them out.
This approach requires setting up a fake movie production. He enlists a friend, makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman). Chambers leads him to a producer (Alan Arkin).
In a few days, these three must find a script and be able to sell the idea that Mendez is a Canadian filmmaker coming to Iran to find locations for a movie.
The movie they decide to shoot is called “Argo,” with a script that calls for deserts and palaces. It’s a science-fiction movie that would call for places like the topography of Iran.
With things in place, Mendez flies to Iran. He runs the gauntlet of the Iranian government, which is very suspect of anything not Iranian. We soon discover how nearly impossible it will be to get these people out of the country.
Affleck give us a slice of life from that era. The look of the sets, the actors, even the opening credits reflect the time when the hostages were held and how the nation felt.
He also uses old news clips, dropping them into the movie continually to help frame what is taking place in Iran and the United States.
Affleck also selects a brilliant cast. Cranston is great as the CIA director; Arkin is wonderful as the producer.
But what makes the movie is Affleck’s direction. As the story unfolds, Affleck ratchets up the tension. What seems trivial becomes important.
There is lots of talk about “Argo” being considered for an Oscar. I see that clearly, for it is a fine film from a fine director.
I hope Affleck continues on this trajectory as a director. His first three movies have all been wonderful, but “Argo” is the best.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent images.
Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Chris Terrio (based on an article by Joshuah Bearman)
Cast: Ben Affleck: Tony Mendez; John Goodman: John Chambers; Alan Arkin: Lester Siegel; Bryan Cranston: Jack O’Donnell.
The movie’s website is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.