“Argo fuck yourself!”
Movies are some of the most inspiring and at the same time insane things that for some reason manage to bring people together. When placed in the foreground of a hostage crisis and a mission to extract six American diplomats from certain death it makes them seem even more ridiculous as to how much attention and importance is place on it.
Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is called into a meeting to consult with members of staff who are attempting to come up with an idea as how to extract these diplomats out of Iran. With all ideas seeming implausible for one reason or another one evening Tony is gifted the grand idea of staging a fake film production that wants to work in Iran. This is that story of how he did it all to extract the Americans.
Argo’s strength is that while it manages to be a great historical detail (which it attempts to provide evidence in its documented opening and end credits) it manages more than that to be a great film. Within a span of three minutes Affleck is able to grab the audience’s attention and for the entire runtime of the film he never lets go of it. With the opening scene of the overtaking of the embassy as we watch it (for the most part) from the perspective of the employees of the embassy we’re sitting there just waiting for these people to come in the door. We know when this happens that nothing good will occur and we see a group of six who are discussing the option of leaving the building. The decision leaving them with a small amount of time and an even smaller amount of options after the decision has been made gives us a sense of stakes that the film sets and is always able to keep up with throughout.
When the idea of the film based cover story is being set up there are key moments which work in the favour of tension building. One being the table read scene. In a simple scene, where Tony, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) the star with credits, and John Chambers (John Goodman) the contact, are all putting on a press event to make the project seem more real. The scene is intercut with a news item of Iranian militants making an announcement as it relates to the hostages and their demands. The film takes this moment to remind us of something our crack team of film stars as well as extraction spy already knows, which is how insanely frivolous this cinematic world is, but the world is paying so much attention to this while the six diplomats hiding out in Iran waiting for help is almost completely forgotten of in a second once this fancy distraction is waived in front of the media.
When Mendez actually enters Iran and makes contact with these six diplomats we’re the game is shifted slightly. Where the film, up till this point, has been, “is this idea actually going to happen?” to, “this has to work now.” Unlike many other filmmakers Affleck is able to manage that shift with few bumps along the way as he makes the entire film about the tension building rather than about any one character moment. So in the grand scheme of things when we find ourselves laughing at gaffs that these diplomats make when posing as part of this film crew, or laughing at Hollywood hijinks it’s completely kept together by a massive amount of tension in asking “will it all work?” in every moment of the film.
With even the smallest moments of wondering, “is this the point where the whole plan will break down?”, we’re left on the edge of our seats. Even something so small as the maid in the home that the diplomats are hiding realizing that something is odd that these guests never go outside and what she will do with that information if ever approached.