Based on the Iranian hostage crisis, Argo tells the story of six American hostages who escaped the embassy as student demonstrators crashed the gates. Hiding out at the Canadian ambassador’s (Victor Garber) residence, the six diplomats await a rescue from the State Department. CIA agents Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) and Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) are brought in to advise the State Department but Mendez quickly pokes holes in all of the plans. With the help of Hollywood industry veterans John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, one of my favorites) Mendez devises a fake movie production (a science fiction script called “Argo”) as a cover for the six Americans.
In a way, the doomed State Department plans felt like a microcosm of doomed American foreign policy. State wanted the cover story for the diplomats to involve teachers, but all foreign teachers were out of the country at that time. Next they suggested creating covers as agricultural workers inspecting crops, but it was the wrong season. They even came up with a humanitarian aid scheme, but their poster had a black child. American policy too failed to understand what was going on in Iran, despite the urgency of the situation.
Argo manages to be tense, despite the outcome being historical fact. The opening scene recreates the massive demonstration outside the embassy. Diplomats, asylum seekers, guards, and intelligence operatives listen to the rumble of angry Iranians, not knowing if the walls will hold. Student dramatically scale the gates and crash through doors and windows. Asylum seekers fear death, intelligence agents burn files, women fear for their safety. One ill-advised shot from a guard or one unhinged protester and violence could overwhelm the situation. The six escape onto the streets, and immediately we feel their vulnerability. Unarmed and without transportation they anxiously look for safety.
Along with Cranston, Affleck, Arkin, and Goodman, the cast is rounded out with well-known actors Tate Donovan, Zeljko Ivanek (Homicide), Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), and Chris Messina (The Mindy Project).