Ben Affleck’s Argo, a comedy-thriller about the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, will be a certain hit. Based on a true story, the film’s Mission Impossible–style heroics are particularly appealing right now. Director and star Affleck goes full ’70s, from the cheesy Warner Bros. logo of the time to a final word from Jimmy Carter. Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio balance the story with an opening sequence about the United States’ part in precipitating the crisis through the installation of the decadent, absolutist Shah.
Wigged, bearded and open-collared, Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA officer with tense nerves and a troubled marriage. At the film’s opening, six American diplomats who’ve escaped the Iranian revolutionary roundup are hiding in the Canadian embassy in Tehran. They will be rescued by Mendez and his fellow CIA agents, who are disguised as crew members and writers of a fake movie, a Star Wars knockoff, to be shot in the Iranian desert.
Argo revisits this rescue story as showbiz. Back in Hollywood, Alan Arkin, playing a producer, takes a meeting with another man who’s in on the fraud (Richard Kind). “Do you want to hear the truth?” he’s asked. “No,” Arkin answers with beautiful weariness, “I want you to bullshit me, Max.”
This Tropic Thunder fake-filmmaking trope is Argo‘s richest part. But that’s also when it gets more workaday, delivering a gibbering merchant screaming about having his picture taken and outwittable uniformed guards at the airport. Affleck superimposed Bond knockoff events, straight out of 2006’s Casino Royale, onto this story—things that we know didn’t happen, just from the way they look and play onscreen. But nobody expected Casino Royale to be realistic. The airport sequences in that film, reproduced badly here, stick out like some low-grade producer’s idea of a thrilling finale, where even the acrid Arkin ends up giving man-hugs.