The film begins with a brief history lesson we would all do well to remind ourselves of the next time we talk about foreign policy, particularly as it relates to the Middle East. Then, in a series of events that have an eerie resonance today, we see Iranian protesters storm the American embassy in Tehran, taking all but six embassy workers hostage. The six that got away were able to sneak out a back door and found refuge at the Canadian ambassador's home. It's Affleck's Tony Mendez's job to get them out.
While watching Planet of the Apes over the phone with his son, Mendez gets the idea for the fugitives' cover: they're a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction movie called Argo. It's a crazy idea that would take an extraordinary confluence of events to actually pull off, but it's the best of the bad ideas Mendez and others have for extracting the US embassy workers. With the help of his CIA colleagues (played by Bryan Cranston, Chris Messina and others) and a Hollywood make-up artist and producer (John Goodman and Alan Arkin, respectively, bringing some much welcome comic relief to this serious story), Mendez sets off for Tehran.
From the opening credits, you can see that Affleck paid great attention to detail, using the '70s era Warner Bros. logo and imbuing the film with a gritty look. It's important here because the story is so implausible—though we know it's true—you have to make everything feel real in order for us to buy in.
And buy in we do. Affleck once again proves himself an elite director, pacing the film so the tensions rise, fall and are sustained to gripping effect. When the tension was relieved once and for all, I sat back in my seat and let out an audible sigh. I don't remember the last time I was that riveted by a film sequence.
This would be a great (if unbelievable) film if it was fiction, but the strange fact that it isn't, that it is part of our history, makes it all the more remarkable.